Scuba Diving: Giant keyhole limpets and the fight against cancer

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A “giant keyhole limpet” located off of Long Point, Catalina Island, California. Image captured by our underwater photographer/Columnist Wade McDonald

It’s 7 a.m., I quickly finish my breakfast with of course a stiff cup of coffee.

I grab my dive bag off of the floor and conduct an equipment check. Yep, all there! I don my bag along with my scuba tank and walk on down to the dingy dock where my kayak is waiting.

I load everything in including myself of course, then with a swift tug on my bowline knot I shove off into open water. Today I have arrived at White’s Landing, located on the front side of the Island west of Avalon to drop anchor and kayak dive. Excitement jolts through every inch of my body as I carefully descend into the crystal clear blue.

As I hover weightless next to the reef I gaze over at a black and white marine snail, But this is no ordinary snail.

In fact the “giant keyhole limpet” can be found from California to the Baja peninsula of Mexico and also in quite an unusual place—the Stellar Biotechnologies lab in Port Hueneme California where researchers there have been growing thousands of giant keyhole limpets since the 1990s. The reason why? Keyhole Limpet Hemocyanin is a protein found in the limpets’ blood that is being tested as a vaccine for various types of illnesses including cancer.

In fact scientists have been studying KLH since the 1950s.When a healthy person catches a cold their immune system’s job is to detect the problem and fight it off. Unfortunately for people with cancer, the immune system does not see anything out of place so it takes no action. When KLH is administered into the infected cells it acts as an antibody, enabling the immune system to then be able to recognize that indeed there is a problem and act accordingly. Just imagine the possibilities, especially the positive impact this marine snail can and will have on human life! And now lets take a look at our official marine forecast for the Island shall we? … Today through Sunday, expect a temperature high of 84 degrees with a low of 67.

Always remember to check current weather conditions when planning your activities around the water. Know your limitations and swim near a lifeguard when possible. When in doubt, don’t go out!

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