Oral bacterium protein found to aid in colorectal cancer spread, paves way for potential treatments
In a groundbreaking development, scientists from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have discovered a novel protein aiding an oral bacterium’s survival and growth in various parts of the human body.
This bacterium, typically harmless in the oral environment, can cause serious health issues when it moves to other body parts through the bloodstream. The bacterium’s alarming presence in the tumours of colorectal cancer patients is particularly noteworthy, as it can foster tumour growth, cancer spread, and chemotherapy resistance.
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With the help of the CMCF (Canadian Macromolecular Crystallography Facility) beamline at the Canadian Light Source (CLS), located at the University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Kirsten Wolthers and her team at UBC were able to determine that the newly discovered protein allows this bacterium to extract vital nutrients like iron from human blood cells.
“Most of the iron in the body is tied up in a molecule called heme which is surrounded by a protein cage,” says Wolthers. “What we’ve discovered now is a new way for this bacterium to acquire essential nutrients from a very abundant source allowing it to grow very well in parts of the body that are free of oxygen.”
This newly identified protein may prove to be a good target for drugs designed to attack this specific bacterium.
Wolthers says that a lot of protein research relies on synchrotron technology. Without access to the CLS, she says, her team would have been unable to identify the distinct section of the protein that binds to the heme.
“The synchrotron technology helped us see the bit of the protein that was unique and interesting and allowed us to find a scaffold that could help with drug design,” says Wolthers. “We just needed the experimental data that was provided by the Canadian Light Source.”
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