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Bacteria Found in Florida Keys May Fight Colon Cancer


Most people go to the Florida Keys for the boating, fishing, snorkeling, and resorts. A University of Florida researcher discovered something different, however, in the form of a bacteria that seems to be effective in fighting colon cancer.

Bacteria found near Key Largo has anticancer properties

The bacteria, named largazole because of where it was found, has demonstrated the ability to inhibit human colon cancer cell growth in the lab. Largazole appears to work by attacking enzymes that are involved in how DNA is packaged and constructed.

Largazole has a simple structure, which makes it easy to produce synthetically in the lab. This feature is important because it means scientists can have a ready source of the anticancer compound.

Specifically largazole, like other cyanobacteria, produce toxins which they use to fight off predators or to survive in a harsh marine environment. These toxins are the substances scientists like Hendrik Leusch, PhD, an associate professor of medicinal chemistry in the University of Florida College of Pharmacy and the researcher who discovered largazole, want to isolate and use to make drugs to fight cancer, including colon cancer.

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The National Cancer Institute reports that an estimated 102,900 cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed in the United States in 2010, with an additional 39,670 cases of rectal cancer, and about 51,370 deaths from colon and rectal cancers combined. Current treatments for colon cancer include surgery, which is the most course; chemotherapy; biologic therapy, which includes monoclonal antibodies and typically used in more advanced disease; and radiation.

Luesch’s research has found that the compound inhibits enzymes called histone deacetylases (HDACs), which have already shown they have anticancer abilities. “Knowing HDAC is the target that makes largazole effective means we can predict good drug properties because there are already two anticancer products on the market that work this way,” noted Luesch.

In preclinical trials, researchers chemically reproduced the compound and found it to be a potent inhibitor of cancer cells and that it is effective without causing the toxic side effects associated with many anticancer drugs. In his initial preclinical studies, Luesch has already shown largazole’s ability to inhibit the growth of more than one type of colon cancer cell.

Although the research concerning this bacteria from the Florida Keys is still in the early stages, thus far it holds promise for fighting one of the more difficult cancers to treat, colon cancer.

National Cancer Institute
University of Florida Health Science Center