Mote Marine helps develop drugs that help treat deadly coral disease

A new medical advance is bringing dying coral back to life. Mote Marine Laboratory teamed up with pharmaceutical scientists to develop a drug that tests have shown helps treat a deadly coral disease known as Black Band Disease.

“Corals are actually the foundation of the coral reef ecosystem,” said Erin Muller, a senior scientist at the Mote Marine Laboratory.

More than a quarter of marine life depends on coral. It provides a source of food and protection, and is also essential in protecting coastlines from storms and erosion.

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“As large waves pass through, a lot of the energy is absorbed when the waves hit the coral reefs and that helps protect our roads and infrastructure,” Muller said. “They also provide new sources of drugs that we can use to fight human disease.”

According to the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s coral reefs have declined by more than half since the 1950s. Some said it’s because of overfishing and climate change.

Another contributing factor to the decline is a disease known as Black Band Disease.

“Once it hits a coral, it creates a mat that is black, but that black mat can come off. And when that happens, it creates these little particles that can infect neighboring colonies,” Muller said.

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As Muller explains, it’s all about stopping the spread, so to help Mote Marine Lab, it teamed up with the National Park Service and pharmaceutical scientists at Ocean Alchemists LLC to develop a drug to treat it.

“It’s actually a natural-based ointment, so it’s an ointment that you can take underwater, and it adheres to the coral tissue, and it contains natural-based products that are antimicrobial,” Muller said.

Muller and their team tested more than 13 different treatments on coral in the Caribbean at Buck Island Reef National Monument in St. Croix before coming up with their product “CoralCure.” It is applied by stapling ropes soaked in the ointment to the coral. Photos taken over a six-month period show that “CoralCure,” once applied, stopped Black Band disease and kept it from spreading to more coral.

“We just danced underwater and celebrated, you know, in our automatons, in our masks, because we’d tried a bunch of other things that just didn’t work,” Muller said.

Their work has since been published in a scientific journal at the Public Library of Science. Muller and her team are now working with Ocean Alchemists LLC to market the ointment so they can sell it in other parts of the world.

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