"We were able to figure out that two of the seven molecules studied can inhibit the growth of tumour spheres, so we studied this further until finding the possible discovery of a potential drug”, explained Lusa Celso, Alves, researcher at MARE- Politécnico de Leiria, who led the research. The compounds of this seaweed also "may have the potential to be used in conjunction with current therapies, enhancing the effect of existing drugs," he added.

The team of researchers, which includes biologists, biochemists, chemists and pharmacists, studied 27 macroalgae off the coast of Peniche, in the district of Leiria, until they were able to "isolate the compounds responsible for the antitumor potential and realise what kind of action they induce," Celso Alves said.

'Sphaerococcus coronopifolius' has been shown to be the seaweed with the highest antitumor potential when tested on human cell lines derived from liver cancer and colorectal cancer. During the four-year project, researchers were able to discover compounds that can inhibit the growth of tumor cells, having isolated seven molecules, two of which were new ones of marine origin were unknown to scientists.

Additionally, the study, by Eurico Serrano, Carlos Rodrigues, Maria Alpoim (University of Coimbra), Luís Botana (University of Santiago de Compostela), Susete Pinteus, Helena Gaspar, Joana Silva and Rui Pedrosa (Politécnico de Leiria), was published in April in the scientific journal "Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy" and will be presented on Tuesday at the Science Meeting 2020.

The study included broader research, roughly €174,000 was funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology ("Red2Discovery") and two million euros by the Compete Community Program ("POINT4PAC"). The first phase of the work was completed and from the results obtained it "opened up" new research opportunities to continue to evaluate and understand the true therapeutic potential of these compounds in this area. The team again applied for the project for new sources of funding, to continue studying, in order to "validate the result in more complex models, using various types of tumor cells and tissues to understand the effective antitumor effect".