Poison which may become a cure

Cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae, which occur in the sea and lakes in the summer, are a danger to swimmers because the algae’s metabolites are hazardous to health. Scientists from the UWM are conducting research on using them for cancer treatment, among other purposes.

Professor Paweł Brzuzan of the Biotechnology Department of the Faculty of Environmental Sciences is conducting research concerning the role of one of the algae’s metabolites in the development of hepatitis. This research is based on the whitefish, which Professor Brzuzan has been interested in for 30 years.

-The studies I’m conducting are basically a cycle of three grants, one following from another. The first grant lasted from 2013 to 2016 and the latest began this year. We aim to find out how the metabolites of blue-green algae regulate the growth and proliferation of neuroplastic cells and to investigate their bactericidal activity.  This knowledge may lead to developing new cancer cures and enhance the treatment of serious illnesses – explains Prof. Brzuzan.

Blue-green algae produce microcystins, which contaminate water. Its consumption my gravely damage the liver, or even lead to cancer. A team of scientists under prof. Brzuzan noticed that the liver of the whitefish, under the influence of a certain microcystin, was initially damaged, but then regenerated itself and became resistant to subsequent doses of toxins.

The scientists also noticed that those changes happen along with the fluctuations in the number of liver molecules of the microRNA (miRNA) – non-coding, short molecules of ribonucleic acid, which play a crucial role in the development and operation of cells.

The research, which was part of subject of the first grant received from the Opus program of the National Science Centre, was conducted on selected fish stock.

The scientists became interested in one particular microRNA – MiR92b-3p, and that research became the subject of the second grant. It started last year and the studies will continue until 2020.

-It is this particular microRNA which influenced the damage and regeneration of the fish liver. MiR92b-3p has also been found in humans. It is numerous in a healthy liver, but its number dwindles in pathological states. This prompted us to study its functions in fish – explains Prof. Brzuzan.

Prof. Brzuzan maintains that the results of the study will also apply in human medicine.

The third grant runs nearly alongside the second and concerns human medicine.

-This research project seeks to find which metabolites of blue-green algae may block the microRNA, and hence slow down the activity of MiR92b-3p. This particular microRNA has a special influence on how human cells operate. Its excess in liver cells leads to uncontrolled multiplication. We are convinced that it is not the question of if, but of when, cures containing molecules of the RNA will be in common use – adds Prof. Brzuzan.

Małgorzata Hołubowska

In the photo, from the left: Eng. Michał Wesołowski, student; Paulina Budzińska, student, prof. Paweł Brzuzan, Maciej Florczyk MA, , PhD student

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