WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Biochemists at UNCW's Center for Marine Science believe they've discovered a way to turn toxic red tide into a potential medicine.
The medicine could help people suffering from respiratory diseases like Asthma and Cystic Fibrosis.
The project is called "From Harm to Charm."
You often can't see red tide, but when it's airborne you can feel the effects as toxins sneak into your eyes and lungs.
The coast of North Carolina doesn't usually have red tide, but there are exceptions.
"In fact, one year a couple of decades ago now I believe, the oyster festival in North Carolina was actually shut down because of a bloom of the Florida red tide," said Dr. Daniel Baden, a biochemist at UNCW.
Around that same time, Dr. Baden began looking more closely at the potent toxins of red tide.
"All of them have this very strange, what's called a poly-ether structure, almost looks like a strung out chicken wire," said Dr. Baden.
The "chicken wire" holds the key to something remarkable. Baden's team started to break down the toxin and chemically alter it, and that's when the tide began to turn.
"We found a derivative, a modified toxin that was not any longer toxic, and in fact, it became anti-toxic. It was the anti toxin. So that's the 'changing the harm into charm," said Baden.
The initial discovery is just the beginning. This step could put the Center for Marine Science on the map, as they work to move the project out of the lab and into the hands of people who need it.
People suffering from Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and Cystic Fibrosis have new hope, thanks to this new discovery in Wilmington.
Right now, Steven Fontana is getting the word out to drug companies so they can begin clinical trials on humans.
"Oh, it's awesome. Anytime you have the opportunity to work on something that can have a real life clinical benefit and affect human lives, it's always exciting," said Fontana.
In the meantime, the UNCW scientists believe they've just scratched the surface of the possibilities that lie beneath the waves.
The whole project is possible because of a program called, "Marbionic." It's an economic development program associated with UNCW and supported by the state.
The project funds the development of different products that come from the sea.