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Contact: Nick Zagorski
nzagorski@asbmb.org
301-634-7366
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Story ideas from the Journal of Biological Chemistry

Turning anthrax toxin into a cancer killer

IMAGE: After binding to cell surface markers, the MMP-activated PA protein (PA-L1) is cleaved by surface associated MMPs, releasing the PA20 fragment. The remaining receptor-bound fragment rapidly oligomerizes to form a...

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Most people wouldn’t consider anthrax toxin to be beneficial, but this bacterial poison may someday be an effective cancer therapy. Anthrax toxin has actually been shown to be fairly selective in targeting melanoma cells, although the risk of non-cancer toxicity prevents any clinical use.

To develop a better and safer treatment, Stephen Leppla and colleagues created a mutated antrax toxin that could only be turned on by matrix metalloproteinases (MMP), proteins that are overproduced only in cancer cells.

When they tested this mutated toxin in mice, the researchers observed that 100% of the animals tolerated a dose that would be lethal for the natural toxin. The MMP-toxin was also better at killing melanoma tumors than natural toxin, due to its higher specificity and longer half-life in the blood.

Even better, Leppla and colleagues saw that MMP-toxin was not limited to melanoma, and could also kill other tumors like colon and lung. This more widespread activity was due to the toxin’s ability to inhibit angiogenesis, or the formation of new blood vessels.

These encouraging mouse results suggest that modified anthrax toxin could be clinically viable, and this potent killer might someday be put to good use.

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Media Contact: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) News and Public Information, Phone: 301-402-1663, email: niaidnews@niaid.nih.gov

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization with over 11,900 members in the United States and internationally. Most members teach and conduct research at colleges and universities. Others conduct research in various government laboratories, nonprofit research institutions and industry. The Society’s student members attend undergraduate or graduate institutions.

Founded in 1906, the Society is based in Bethesda, Maryland, on the campus of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The Society’s purpose is to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology through publication of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the Journal of Lipid Research, and Molecular and Cellular Proteomics, organization of scientific meetings, advocacy for funding of basic research and education, support of science education at all levels, and promoting the diversity of individuals entering the scientific work force.

For more information about ASBMB, see the Society’s Web site at www.asbmb.org.



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