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Skin bacterium may protect against cancer

5 March 2018
Appeared in BioNews 940

Bacteria commonly found on skin could be used as a treatment against skin cancer, researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have found. 

The team investigated a particular strain of the bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis that inhibits DNA synthesis. The strain appeared to reduce the growth of skin tumour in mice, according to a study published in the journal Science Advances.  

'This unique strain of skin bacteria produces a chemical that kills several types of cancer cells but does not appear to be toxic to normal cells,' said Professor Richard Gallo, a coauthor of the study. 

The bacteria produced a compound called 6-N-hydroxyaminopurine (6-HAP). The study found that normal mouse skin cells had the ability to break down 6-HAP, but cancerous cells lacked this ability. Mice covered with this bacterial strain developed 60 percent less skin tumours in response to UV radiation than mice without bacteria producing 6-HAP.

One characteristic of cancer cells is uncontrollable growth and division. Limiting their growth by preventing new DNA to form could be a viable treatment to stop the spread of the cancer. 

6-HAP itself didn’t appear to be toxic for the mice when systematically injected with it. Indeed, the study found that 20 percent of the normal human population may carry 6-HAP-producing Staphylococcus epidermidis. 

The findings could open the door to new cancer treatments, as Professor Ashani Weereratna from the Winstar Institute, Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the study, told HealthDay: 'If we can understand whether a balance between one species of bacteria is better for a patient than another, we might be able to use low doses of antibiotics to encourage the growth of one bacteria over another.'

According to Cancer Research UK, skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer and 15,000 cases are diagnosed a year. Most of them are caused by overexposure to UV rays from the sun. New potential treatments against skin cancer may also open a door for other potential treatments for other types of cancer.

A commensal strain of Staphylococcus epidermidis protects against skin neoplasia
Science Advances |  28 February 2018
Beneficial skin bacteria protect against skin cancer
Science Daily |  1 March 2018
Defence Against Skin Cancer May Live On Your Skin
HealthDayNews |  28 February 2018
Human skin bacteria have cancer-fighting powers
Science News |  28 February 2018
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