Scientists from the University of Aberdeen’s Marine Biodiscovery Centre and Division of Applied Medicine will travel to Ghana in January in search of marine organisms that could be used to develop new medicines.

The researchers are hoping that the seas off the coast of West Africa could yield treatments for diseases such as cancer, MRSA and infectious diseases prevalent in Africa.

This is the first time that a systematic exploration of marine organisms off the West African coast will take place and the event is even more special as the work will focus directly on transferring these discoveries into new treatments for diseases prevalent on the continent.

Professor Marcel Jaspars, director of the Marine Biodiscovery Centre, said that drug discovery work in West Africa had historically focused on land, investigating how molecules in plants can be used in the development of new medicines.

“We will be collecting samples at low tide around the Gulf of Guinea and Guinea Basin, where we believe we will find entirely new species of sponges, soft corals and seasquirts,” Jaspars said.

“We will then extract molecules, bacteria and fungi from these organisms and test their potential to be used in the development of new medicines – in particular for the treatment of diseases which are prevalent in Africa such as fungal and bacterial infections, including tuberculosis, parasitic diseases and cancer.”

Scientists from the Marine Biodiscovery Centre will work with colleagues from the University of Ghana, marking the start of a three-year collaborative project.

The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and co-ordinated by the Royal Society.