Anti-cancer pigment discovered in Santa Pola salt flats

The Applied Biochemistry research group at the University of Alicante, in conjunction with researchers from the Alicante University Hospital Dr. Balmis (HGUDB) and the Alicante Health and Biomedical Research Institute (ISABIAL), have made a significant discovery regarding the anti-cancer properties of a pigment found in the Santa Pola salt flats. This particular pigment is produced by certain microorganisms called “halophilic archaea” as a means of protecting themselves from the sun. Through extensive testing, the researchers have found that the pigment exhibits anti-tumor effects in various types of breast cancer.

Professor Rosa María Martínez, a Biology expert and the group’s director, explained that this groundbreaking finding, published in the journal Scientific Reports, originated from the Ph.D. thesis of Micaela Giani. Giani’s research initially focused on the pigment’s antioxidant activity and its impact on enzymes involved in conditions like diabetes and metabolic syndrome, as observed through in vitro tests.

Once the results of the antioxidant activity were made public, the researchers became curious about the potential effects of incorporating the pigment into cancer cells. Their hypothesis stemmed from the belief that due to its antioxidant activity being nearly 300 times stronger than other antioxidants, the pigment could potentially impede the growth and reproduction of cancer cells.

In the subsequent phase of the study, the research group collaborated with Dr. Gloria Peiró, a pathologist at HGUDB and lecturer at the UA Department of Biotechnology, as well as Yoel Genaro Montoyo-Pujol, a Ph.D. holder in Experimental and Biosanitary Sciences and a researcher at UA. Both Dr. Peiró and Montoyo-Pujol are affiliated with the breast cancer and immunology research group at ISABIAL.

Credit: Asociacion RUVID

Thanks to this collaborative effort, the researchers were able to conduct in vitro experiments using various cell lines that represent different intrinsic phenotypes of breast cancer, as well as a healthy breast tissue line. Professor Martínez emphasized that they have determined that, within certain doses, the pigment does not cause any harmful effects on healthy cells. However, it does inhibit the growth capacity of neoplastic cells. This discovery is significant as it paves the way for the development of new biomedical strategies in cancer treatment using natural compounds that are not harmful to the body.

Halophilic archaea are microorganisms that thrive in extreme environments and require highly saline conditions. Consequently, they are primarily found in coastal salt marshes, inland salt marshes, and hypersaline lakes. These microorganisms produce unique carotenoid pigments called bacteriorruberin (BR) and its derivatives, including monoanhydrobacterioruberin (MABR) and bisanhydrobacterioruberin (BABR).

Building upon this breakthrough, the researcher highlighted that there are several stages of development ahead. This includes expanding the study to include different cell lines representing other types of tumors. The next step would involve conducting tests on tissue samples obtained from biopsies or surgical specimens to design potential treatment protocols utilizing this pigment. Subsequently, animal studies would be undertaken before progressing to clinical trials involving patients.

Source: Asociacion RUVID

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