Did you know that marine invertebrates in our seas known as sea cucumbers can be sources of anti-tumor agents and cure for HIV? Researchers Elizabeth E. Gana and Dr. Florins E. Morca of the University of the Philippines-Los Banos (UPLB) Institute of Chemistry have found such potentials. In a study monitored by the Los Banos based Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development (PCAMRD), the researchers isolated lectins from the brown sea cucumber Holothuria sp., purified the isolated compound using chromatographic and cytotoxic activities. Lectins are sugars with anti-cancer activity usually found in plants but have also been discovered in vertebrates and invertebrates.

In chemical tests, results showed that the lectin isolated from the body wall of the brown and cucumber exhibited relatively high agglutinating activity.The lectin from the brown sea cucumber lectin is a non-blood type specific lectin which agglutinates blood types A, B, AB, and O. It also agglutinates cattle and goat blood cells. Classified as a complete lectin, it requires no prior treatment with trypsin to exhibit lectin activity. 11c Icctin agglutinability increases with the addition of trypsin while the addition of calcium enhances its agglutinating activity.

Holothuria sp. lectin was observed to possess mitogcnic activity or cell proliferation. It was found to be effective against mouse muscle cancer and human lung cancer at levels of 5 and 50 micrograms, respectively.In medical research, lectins have been found to have a therapeutic effect on the Human Immuno deficiency Virus (HIV).

A plant lectin known as jacalin completely blocks the HIV virus in laboratory tests using lymphoid cells. Aside from their ability to agglutinate malignant cells, lectin also serve as prognostic indicators for tumors.There more than 40 lectin which are commercially available in the market. The Philippine imports lectins which cost US$ 25-150 per milligram. (Dolly Fernandez, PCAMRD S&T Media Service)