Cancer Cures in a Sponge
For the better part of a year, Julie Rizzo '03 of Tonawanda, N.Y., has been trying to find a cure for cancer, and she's looking in the sea. Starting as a summer research project with Professor Robin Kinnel, Julie began looking at the non-aqueous extracts from a sponge, called Stylotella auranteum, that lives off the coast of the island of Palau, near Indonesia. Now, as a research assistant for the chemistry department, she's continuing her work.
"Professor Kinnel has been studying this sponge for 15-20 years," explains Julie, "and he has even isolated an aqueous compound, called palau'amine, that has been shown to fight cancer. No one, however, had studied the non-aqueous extracts, so that was definitely something I wanted to do."
During the summer, Julie soaked sponges-shipped to campus from Palau-in methanol to isolate the non-aqueous portion. Then, using nuclear magnetic resonance and thin-layer chromatography, she isolated several compounds of interest. "At the end of the summer," she says, "I sent four samples to the National Cancer Institute, and, after testing their toxicity, they found that each sample was active against four strains of cancer."
Julie is currently working to pinpoint the compounds that are actually toxic to the cancer cells and to identify them. "Once we've identified the compounds, researchers can begin using them in pre-clinical trials and," she adds, "eventually they may be part of a new cancer drug."
"I love to learn," says Julie, "and my favorite part about doing research is that I'm always learning something new." After graduation, Julie plans to gain a Ph.D. in chemistry and continue with cancer research, perhaps one day teaching at a small liberal arts college.