I missed a cool paper last year on the effects of squid ink on angiogenesis--the growth of new blood vessels. And therefore I also missed the chance to run the sensationalist headline SQUID INK BLOTS OUT CANCER, or something equally punny and misleading.

Growing new blood vessels seems like a good thing, and indeed it often is. But, as the Angiogenesis Foundation points out:
Abnormal blood vessel growth, either excessive or insufficient, is now recognized as a “common denominator” underlying many deadly and debilitating conditions, including cancer, skin diseases, age-related blindness, diabetic ulcers, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and many others.
So that's bad. And people are always looking for new ways to control and stabilize angiogenesis, as a first step in fighting these diseases.

Enter the squid Ommastrephes bartramii, a cousin of my friend the Humboldt squid and an important fishery species. A group of Chinese researchers extracted a chemical from this squid's ink and found that it could do two very interesting things. First, it suppressed the movements of tumor cells--and it is the movement, or metastasis, of tumor cells that makes so many cancers so deadly. Second, the chemical inhibited angiogenesis--a critical component of the metastasis process, as explained in the National Cancer Institute's excellent slideshow. (Click on "next section" just below the slide to page through.)

The scientists concluded that this chemical is a "potential candidate compound for the prevention of tumor metastasis." How times change--cephalopod ink has served humans as a writing medium, pasta flavoring, and now possible cancer drug.

ResearchBlogging.org Chen, S., Wang, J., Xue, C., Li, H., Sun, B., Xue, Y.,&Chai, W. (2010). Sulfation of a squid ink polysaccharide and its inhibitory effect on tumor cell metastasis Carbohydrate Polymers, 81 (3), 560-566 DOI: 10.1016/j.carbpol.2010.03.009