Researchers from the University of Alicante Applied Biochemistry research group, in collaboration with researchers from the Alicante University Hospital Dr. Balmis and the Alicante Health and Biomedical Research Institute, have discovered the anti-cancer potential of a pigment found in the Santa Pola salt flats. The pigment is produced by certain microorganisms called “halophilic archaea” to protect themselves from the sun.

The findings, which have been published in the journal Scientific Reports, began with the development of Micaela Giani’s Ph.D. thesis. Giani conducted in vitro tests to demonstrate the antioxidant activity of the pigment and its effect on biocatalysts involved in pathologies such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

After the results were made public, the researchers wondered what would happen if they added the pigment to cancer cells. They hypothesized that since the pigment has an antioxidant activity almost 300 times higher than other antioxidants, it could limit the growth and reproduction ability of cancer cells.

The research group worked with Dr. Gloria Peiró, a pathologist at HGUDB and lecturer in the UA Department of Biotechnology, and Yoel Genaro Montoyo-Pujol, a Ph.D. in Experimental and Biosanitary Sciences and researcher at UA. They tested the effect of the pigment in vitro in cell lines representing different intrinsic phenotypes of breast cancer and a line of healthy breast tissue. They concluded that in certain doses, the pigment does not harm healthy cells but limits the growth capacity of neoplastic cells.

According to Professor in Biology and director of the group Rosa María Martínez, this finding opens the door to biomedicine and the design of new strategies to fight cancer using natural compounds that are not harmful to the body.

Halophilic archaea are extremophilic microorganisms that require a hypersaline environment to thrive. They mainly exist in coastal salt marshes, inland salt marshes, or hypersaline lakes. These microorganisms synthesize rare C50 carotenoid pigments called bacteriorruberin (BR) and its derivatives monoanhydrobacterioruberin (MABR) and bisanhydrobacterioruberin (BABR).

Based on this discovery, the researchers plan to extend the study to different cell lines of other types of tumors. They will continue with tests on tissue samples from biopsies or surgical specimens to design possible treatment protocols using this pigment. The researchers will then move on to animal studies before reaching clinical use in patients.

The research group has discovered the anti-cancer potential of a pigment produced by halophilic archaea found in the Santa Pola salt flats. The study has opened the door to biomedicine and new strategies to fight cancer using natural compounds that are not harmful to the body.


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