The Week That Wasn't: Cancer Fungus, Rain Forest Antibiotic, Anti-Pollution Aspirin

Donavyn Coffey

Disclosures

October 11, 2019

This week, medical news about a pancreatic cancer-causing fungus, a new antibiotic extracted from the rain forest, and the possibility that aspirin could counteract the health effects of pollution made headlines. But the stories didn't make the cut at Medscape Medical News; here's why.

Pancreatic Cancer-Causing Fungus

Fungal proliferation is 3000-fold greater in a cancerous pancreas, according to a recent study published in Nature. Researchers found that the mycobiome of a cancerous pancreas was different from the fungal colonies found in the gut or a healthy pancreas. Ascomycota and Basidiomycota are common to the pancreas, but Malassezia, a genus of Basidiomycota, was markedly increased in both mice and patients with pancreatic cancer.

When researchers treated mice that had pancreatic tumors with an antifungal drug, the tumors' development halted. But giving the treated mice brewer's yeast, a single-celled fungus, jump-started their tumor growth again, suggesting that fungi may be critical to tumor growth.

Medscape reported a previous study by the same group of researchers that found that samples from patients with pancreatic cancer also showed a 1000-fold increase in bacterial concentrations. The findings imply that pancreatic micro- and mycobiome are critical microenvironmental factors in tumor growth. However, the antifungal experiments in this new study were limited to mice. There's not yet evidence that antifungals are a safe or effective addition to a pancreatic cancer treatment regimen for people, so this early research, although offering an intriguing theory, isn't relevant for a busy clinician.

Antibiotic From the Rain Forest

An international research team isolated a new antibiotic called phazolicin from the roots of wild beans in the Los Tuxtlas rain forest in Mexico. Phazolicin has narrow-spectrum antibacterial activity by interacting with 23S RNA and related proteins to obstruct translation.

The researchers found that phazolicin is species specific, meaning it's effective against a large group of bacteria, including Escherichia coli, that carry a critical glycine molecule. However, when the glycine is replaced with another amino acid, such as the histidine found in Thermus thermophilus, the antibiotic is rendered ineffective.

The authors suggest that phazolicin's most immediate application could be in agriculture biocontrol — essentially as a plant probiotic. The study provides details on the mechanism of phazolicin, but researchers haven't yet tested it in animal trials. It'll be a long time before clinicians can use phazolicin for their patients, if ever.

Aspirin Against Pollution?

A cohort study of 2280 male veterans conducted by public health researchers at Columbia, Harvard, and Boston University found that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin may lessen the effects of pollution on lung function.

The men were all Boston locals whose lung function was tested. The researchers compared test results to levels of ambient particulate matter during the month before the test and the patient's self-reported NSAID use. After controlling for smoking and health status, the researchers found that men who took NSAIDs experienced nearly half the effect of particulate matter on their lung function compared with men who didn't.

Managing the health implications of pollution is increasingly important, and this is not the first study to find that a substance can protect against pollution. However, a cohort study like this new one can't demonstrate a causal relationship, only an association between two variables. It's not evidence that clinicians should be prescribing NSAIDs to patients to protect against pollution, so we didn't think Medscape readers needed to know about it.

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