Can Coral Cure Cancer?

July 8, 2010

Stuyvesant High School senior Katrina Koon has been interested in marine biology since early childhood, and when she learned that a teacher of hers was growing coral, she asked if she might borrow some. 

“Many types of coral have anticancer and antibacterial properties,” she explains. “I thought it would be worth looking into this, since there is at present no cure for most advanced cancers.” 

Katrina was chosen to conduct her study as a participant in BMCC’s STEP program, “which is designed to foster interest in the sciences and mathematics among New York City high school students,” according to Everton Barrett, director of the program. (The acronym STEP stands for science, technology, entry and program.) 

A unique opportunity

“Some of the students wind up attending BMCC, while others go elsewhere,” says Barrett.  “But in all cases we benefit from the opportunity to work with the participants on research they might not otherwise have the means to pursue.”

STEP participants are guided in their work by faculty members from BMCC and other institutions.  At BMCC, Katrina linked up with Sarah Salm an associate professor in the Science Department.  “Katrina did the first part of her study—the chemistry part—with Dr. Wayne Harding of Hunter College,” says Salm. “She then came to BMCC for the cellular and microbiology work.”

Finding enough coral for her research took some doing on Katrina’s part.  “Mr. McClellan, my teacher at Stuyvesant, got me started by providing me with a sample of the coral Capnella imbricata,” she says.  “I also went online and found additional donors in New York and New Jersey.” 

Encouraging results

Working with Dr. Harding at Hunter, Katrina produced two extracts from the coral, which she first assessed for toxicity, using blackworms as test subjects. Five cancer cell lines—breast, prostate, colon and two melanomas—were then treated with extracts.  She did further testing at NYU Medical Center under the supervision of Dr. Prashiela Manga. “The results indicated that both extracts were nontoxic and decreased cell viability in all five cancer lines,” Katrina says.

Katrina was one of 17 finalists at the New York City Science and Engineering Fair to compete at the 2010 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in San Jose, CA, in May and placed third in her category. Meanwhile, she is continuing to work on refining the extracts and learn more about how they work.  The results of her research to date, she says, “suggest that Capnella Imbricata could be a source of novel drug therapies.”

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  • Katrina Koon participates in STEP
  • Works with Professor Sarah Salm and others to investigate the anticancer properties of coral
  • Wins third place in her category at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

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