Public Release: 

Bacteria discovered in cave produce potential anti-cancer drug

American Society for Microbiology

SALT LAKE CITY - May 20, 2002 -- A bacterium discovered Mammoth Cave in Kentucky produces a substance that may be an effective anti-cancer drug. Researchers from Grand Valley State University report their findings today at the 102nd General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology.

"We have isolated numerous bacteria from Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. One of these bacteria produces a substance that appears to inhibit the activity of a protein involved in the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). This is significant because, when cancer cells begin to form tumors, one of the requirements is the formation of new blood vessels to provide the tumor with oxygen and nutrients," says Dr. Ryan Frisch, one of the researchers on the study. "One of the strategies in the fight against cancer is to discover drugs that are anti-angiogenic because, if blood vessels are not produced, the tumor does not grow and prosper. These experiments indicate that the substance produced by this bacterium may be a new tool in the fight against cancer."

Human diseases, such as cancer and the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, require a constant supply of new drugs for effective treatment, such as tamoxifen and fourth generation fluoroquinolones. Natural product screening represents a major avenue for drug discovery. Based on their structural complexity and wide range of mechanisms of action found among products from nature, natural products are much more diverse and structurally complex than synthetic compounds created by medicinal chemists. The discovery of new drugs from nature is largely contingent on examining previously unscreened organisms, specifically microorganisms. A rich source of uncharacterized organisms are found in new or poorly described ecosystems, such as those found in caves. "We have been examining bacteria isolated from Mammoth Cave, Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky, for the production of anti-angiogenesis (anti-cancer) compounds. One of these organisms is producing a promising product that is active in an assay involving yeast cells. The yeast system is specifically designed to test activity against a protein that is involved in the production of new blood vessels. We are currently trying to further characterize the compound and determine the extent of it's activity in other anti-angiogenesis tests," says Frisch.


This release is a summary of a presentation from the 102nd General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, May 19-23, 2002, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Additional information on these and other presentations at the 102nd ASM General Meeting can be found online at or by contacting Jim Sliwa ( in the ASM Office of Communications. The phone number for the General Meeting Press Room is (801) 534-4720 and will be active from 10:00 a.m. MDT, May 19 until 12:00 noon MDT, May 23.

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