Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a promising cancer treatment which involves activation of a photosensitizing drug with light to produce reactive oxygen species that kill tumors without causing damage to unirradiated normal tissues. To date, only Photofrin, Foscan and Levulan have been approved for clinical treatment of cancer. Tropical habitats such as those found in Malaysia are attractive sources of new therapeutic compounds as tremendous chemical diversity is found in a large number of plants, animals, marine- and micro-organisms. In our screening program for novel photosensitizers from nature, colorful strains of fungi (from Aspergillus and Penicillium genus) and bacteria (including actinomycetes and photosynthetic bacteria) were collected from various habitats in Peninsular Malaysia, such as coastal soil, peat soil, marine sponges and wastewater ponds. Methanolic extracts from a total of 85 different species were evaluated with a short-term cell viability assay for photo-cytotoxicity, where a promyelocytic leukemia cell-line, HL60 incubated with 20 microg/ml of extracts was irradiated with 9.6 J/cm(2) of a broad spectrum light. Two of these extracts, one from Rhodobacter sphaeroides (PBUM003) and one from Rhodopseudomonas palustris (PBUM001) showed moderate to strong photo-cytotoxicity. Subsequent bioassay guided isolation of the PBUM001 extract yielded known photosensitisers that are based on bacteriochlorophyll-a by comparing their molecular weight data, HPLC profiles and UV-vis absorption spectra with literature values, thereby demonstrating the validity of our screening approach.
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