They may seem almost mundane; a simple sea sponge and coral on the bottom of the ocean floor.
You would never guess that something like this Caribbean Sea life might lead to the development of amazing future treatments for some of man's biggest medical challenges, including cancer and antibiotic resistant infections. But that is exactly what researchers hope for.
While coral reefs and other underwater life were dying around it, the some species of Caribbean sea sponges and coral continued to thrive. Upon closer examination, researchers found that a naturally produced antibiotic was helping them to survive. This antibiotic strips bacteria of their protective bio-films, making them easier to kill. Scientists estimate that 65 to 80 percent of all bacterial infections are bio-film based.
But the discoveries don't stop there.
A chemical called candidaspongiolide (CAN), which inhibits protein synthesis, can kill some cancer cells. The findings were published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
"Our basic understanding of the relationship between animals and the chemical they produce has come a long way," Boyer said.
Researchers say there is much more research, tests and trials to complete but they hope it won't be long before it leads to effective new treatments in the future.
Maybe you think salmon belongs on a dinner plate, but you can find it at the pharmacy, too.
Calcitonin-salmon is the generic name for a class of drugs, which include Miacalcin and Fortical, used to treat bone loss.
Humans make calcitonin, a hormone that inhibits bone loss, in the thyroid gland. But in postmenopausal women and people with Paget's disease, the rate of bone loss increases. Extra calcitonin can prevent such bone loss and promote bone density.
"It's about getting clues from animals to help with human health," Boyer said.
Although fish have no thyroid glands, they do produce calcitonin hormones to regulate their own calcium levels from an endocrine gland in their neck. The synthetic version of this calcitonin from the coho salmon, the calcitonin-salmon, makes it into the final medical product for people with calcium regulation disorders.
The southeastern pygmy rattlesnake, found in the United States from North Carolina to Florida and west through Texas, is too small to pack a dangerous bite, but the venom has some startling properties.
A molecule in the venom leaves prey bleeding profusely, their blood unable to clot. This could speed death for the prey of these small snakes.
"Naturally occurring substances that can genuinely do harm, at different doses, maybe could be drugs," Boyer said.
This molecule from the rattlesnake venom was developed into eptifibatide, an antiplatelet drug that binds to platelets in the blood for a short time and prevents them from sticking together, or aggregating.
Eptifibatide is used to treat people with advanced heart disease, particularly those at risk for sudden heart attack. The drug prevents blood clots, which can block arteries and cause heart attack and stroke, from forming.
Every person in the world today who receives vaccines, antibiotics, or implanted medical devices such as pacemakers, has had their safety ensured by the blue blood of the horseshoe crab.