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Mermaid's Hair and Cancer

Sometimes scientific breakthroughs, like new medical therapies, are found in the strangest places.

For example, take a blue-green algae known as "mermaid's hair" that grows in the South Pacific. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego recently discovered that the algae contains a powerful chemical compound that kills cancer cells.

Specifically, the compound targets blood vessels that feed tumors, and kills actual cancer cells as well. Unlike chemotherapy drugs and radiation treatments that blast not only tumors but also lots of healthy tissue, the algae compound can be used more strategically. The algae naturally arranges into molecule-sized bits, so the compound can be coupled with nanotechnology to target specific cancer cells without harming other parts of the body.

Now, it's not known how common this algae is or how feasible it would be to harvest the cancer-killing compound in large quantities, but the chemical's structure is so simple that scientists have been able to duplicate it in the lab.

The compound has been tested on cancer cells in petri dishes, and shown to be very potent. The next step is to test it in animals and then in humans. It will most likely be several years before it's known if this discovery will actually help cancer patients.

In time, the algae could prove to be a major breakthrough in the fight against cancer.

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