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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Benefits to Humans
Marine sponges are rich sources of bioactive natural products, including numerous antibiotics (Kelman, et al., 2009). In addition to the benefits which these products afford humans, recent studies have discovered a new chemical produced by the Red Sea Sponge (Callyspongia siphonella) that may hold promise as a treatment for cancer. The treatment of cancer is hindered by the cell’s ability to develop multidrug resistance (MDR), the result of the cancer cells over-expressing an ABCB1/P-glycoprotein (P-gp) (Shi, et al. 2007). P-gp acts as a pump to transport the cancer drugs out of the cells, reducing their concentration and effectiveness (Jain, et al., 2007). Sipholane triterpenoids isolated from the Red Sea sponge have shown a potent reversal of MDR in cancer cells which are over-expressing P-gp by inhibiting the function of its pumping action (Abraham, et al., 2010). Though other P-gp inhibitors have been tested, they have been found to have serious side effects and negative interactions with the chemotherapy drugs (Jain, et al., 2007). The screening of sipholane triterpenoids from the Red Sea sponge, in contrast, has shown that they actually increase the effectiveness of several anticancer drugs, including colchicines, vinblastine and paclitaxel (Abraham, et al., 2010). Another study also found evidence that there was no interference or negative interaction with cells which were not over-expressing P-gp, and no toxicity to any cells (Shi, et al., 2007). These compounds derived from the Red Sea sponge have great potential in the future of MDR treatment.
Benefits to Ecosystems
Sponges (Phylum Porifera) in general provide benefits to the ecosystem by creating habitat for other organisms. Often associated with coral reefs, sponges play an important role in the recycling of the calcium trapped in coral reefs by eroding the deposits in search of shelter (Meyers, 2010).