A sea sponge found growing on coral reefs in Indonesia contains an organic compound that can stop cellular duplication of cancerous tumors.

The compound, called manzamine-A, has been tested laboratories across the U.S. It has been shown to inhibit the growth of cervical, prostate, and other cancerous cells. 

“It prevents cell replication rather than killing the cell outright, leading to immediate impacts on tumor growth, and then other drugs are useful for killing remaining tumor cells, or they may die on their own,” says Professor Mark Hamann, a co-author on the study.

Scientists are still working to understand the full benefits of manzamine-A, which is also used as a successful treatment for malaria

“If produced on a large scale, it’s a good candidate for modifying and may find utility broadly in infectious diseases,” says Hamann. 

Manzamine-A is difficult to create artificially, but overharvesting of Indonesian sponges (which, in fact, are living animals) is a real concern for scientists. 

An equitable and sustainable option would be to grow and harvest the sponges in an aquaculture setting. 

“Since the sponge produces this molecule in high yields, and it seems easy to grow, you could grow it in polluted waters near wastewater plants or river mouths along the ocean, and it would potentially grow very well,” Hamann notes.

“It would be a promising economic development tool to put sponge culture facilities where there’s high nutrient loads to improve water quality and build a business around the manufacture of the drug. It’d have a valuable local impact,” he adds.

This project could provide jobs and income to many Indonesian locals and a steady supply of Manzamine-A to scientists for further research.