November 1, 2011
Daniel Marie Dives for a Cure
November is National Chemistry Month, and 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry. These are details most people won’t know unless there’s a Chemist in the family. So I thought today to celebrate, I’d tell you about a really cool chemist I read about. His name is Daniel Marie. He was born in Mauritius, an island nation off the southern coast of Africa. His dad was a home builder and his mom was a home maker. He was the youngest of 9 kids, and they barely survived. But as a teenager, he fell in love with science. He wanted to grow up to study biochemistry, if ‘given the opportunity.’ But feeding the family took precedence. He had to quit High School for a time to work to help support the family.
He went to school when he could and eventually earned his ‘high school certificate.’ That might be the equivalent of the High School GED or maybe he actually graduated. He kept working to save enough money to attend the University of Mauritius, where he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemistry and Environmental Studies. Earning that degree gave him the opportunity to research the extraction of essential oils from the Eucalyptus plant. Daniel said that his work began what he called his “fascination with natural products, their chemistry and their medicinal properties.” Now he was more determined than ever to finish his education.
He began to study for a doctorate degree and earned a scholarship to help. Another scholarship gave him the opportunity to study for a year in Scotland at a university there, where he learned how to use expensive instruments they didn’t have in Mauritius. He had brought some marine sponges from his home in Mauritius, and he analyzed them using these instruments. What he found fascinated him.
After his doctorate degree, in 2002 he accepted a Post-doctoral fellowship at a University in Belgium. Again, he took marine sponges that he collected randomly from a Mauritius lagoon. He found that some of the extracts from one particular sponge exhibited some anti-cancer properties.
Today he the principal research scientist at the Mauritius Oceanography Institute (MOI) where he continues to look for bioactive compounds in natural products. He and his team of two other chemists have collected specimens from over 100 different varieties of sponges from 40 different diving sites in Mauritius. He runs a small government-funded laboratory in Mauritius, still without the fancy instruments he used in other better-funded labs. But because of the contacts he made during his training, he collaborates with labs that have better equipment. Between their lab and their collaborators’ labs, they take the sponges, extract, purify and isolate the chemical compounds that show anti cancer activity, then study them. Through their combined research, Daniel has found 14 extracts that show ‘significant activity against specific cancer cell lines.’ Now he has made inroads on his main goal, ‘to alleviate the pain of others.’
It’s a great arrangement. Daniel can live (and scuba dive) in his hometown island where his family is, and he can keep researching his passion, ‘the traditional medicinal uses of marine plants and animals.’ Without much future as a poor child in a tiny African island, Daniel made his future great by hard work and determination. Who knows—maybe he’ll be the one to isolate the cure for cancer! Wouldn’t that be great?