Curing Cancer With A Sponge

Working with the rich marine biodiversity of her country, particularly sponges, Indonesian scientist, Sri Fatmawati, will look for new ways to treat diseases like cancer and malaria. She likes to include elements from her culture into her work, like Jamu, for example, which is traditional Indonesian medicine.

As a child, Sri Fatmawati was often treated with “Jamu," traditional medicine predominantly derived from natural materials such as roots, leaves, bark or fruit. This early contact with the healing power of natural substances inspired her to become a chemist and has shaped her whole scientific career.

Until now, Sri’s postgraduate research, both in Indonesia and Japan, has been centered on analyzing the medical potential of natural substances from plants and fungi, particularly those used in herbal medicine. She is now interested in using the potential of her home country’s rich marine diversity to extend her scope of study to marine species from the Indo-Pacific Ocean. Marine species demonstrate a varied palette of biomolecules, synthesized by the organisms in response to specific needs. As these molecules are secondary metabolites and not vital for the growth and development of the organism, the potential of finding new substances is almost without limit. Many of these natural substances are likely to hold great promise for the development of new families of drugs.

Sri will look specifically at sponges, the most primitive of all invertebrates. In her host laboratory she will be trained in the isolation and structural determination of natural metabolites derived from different sponge species using state of the art technologies. One of the particular challenges of isolating and elucidating the structure of these complex marine molecules is that they are found in extremely small quantities, pushing modern spectroscopy tools to their limit.

After she has successfully isolated and purified the molecules, Sri will test their biological activity in vitro to see if they demonstrate anti-plasmodia, anti-microbial, and anti-tumor or anti-cholinesterase properties. This is relevant exploration for the treatment of infections and diseases such as malaria, cancer and Alzheimer’s. Any particularly promising molecules will be patented to allow for their synthesis as potential drug compounds.

Sri hopes that her fellowship period in France will lead to long-term research collaboration with her home institute in Indonesia and that her research will make an important contribution to treating major human diseases.

More about Sri Fatmawati:

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