The use of natural products as chemotherapeutic agents is well established; however, many of these are associated with undesirable side effects, including high toxicity and instability. Furthermore, the development of drug resistant cancers makes the search for new anticancer lead compounds a priority. In this study, the extraction of an Ircinia
sp. sponge resulted in the isolation of an inseparable mixture of (7E
) and (7E
) and structural assignment was established using standard 1D and 2D NMR experiments. The cytotoxic activity of the compound against three solid tumour cell lines displayed moderate anti-cancer activity through apoptosis, together with a general lack of selectivity among the cancer cell lines studied. Structural assignment and cytotoxic evaluation of variabilin was complicated and further aggravated by its inherent instability. Variabilin was therefore incorporated into solid lipid nanoparticles (SLNs) and the stability and cytotoxic activity evaluated. Encapsulation of variabilin into SLNs led to a marked improvement in stability of the natural product coupled with enhanced cytotoxic activity, particularly against the prostate (PC-3) cancer cell line, with IC50
values of 87.74 μM vs. 8.94 μM for the variabilin alone and Var-SLN, respectively. Both variabilin and Var-SLN revealed comparable activity to Ceramide against the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line, revealing IC50
values of 34.8, 38.1 and 33.6 μM for variabilin, Var-SLN and Ceramide, respectively. These samples revealed no activity (>100 μM for all) against HT-29 (colon) cell lines and MCF-12 (normal breast) cell lines. Var-SLNs induced 47, 48 and 59% of apoptosis in HT-29, MCF-7 and PC-3 cells, respectively, while variabilin alone revealed 38, 29 and 29% apoptotic cells for HT-29, MCF-7 and PC-3 cell lines, respectively. The encapsulation of natural products into SLNs may provide a promising approach to overcome some of the issues hindering the development of new anticancer drugs from natural products.
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