An Antarctic glimmer of hope at 95 metres depth against pancreatic cancer | Polarjournal

In laboratory tests in Brazil, filamentous fungi from Deception Island (Antarctica) slowed the proliferation of cancer cells.

Ocean temperature at 3°C, run-off at 70°C on the shores, steam and fumaroles rising in the ancient flooded crater of Deception Island. “In the island’s marine sediments, you’ll find fewer fungi than here in Brazil,” says Michel Passarini, polar microbiologist at the Federal University of Latin American Integration, via Zoom. And yet, they are essentially to cancer as hope might be to disease. Michel Passarini and his Brazilian research colleagues (Jorge Ruiz, Luz Rosa and Karine Camacho) have isolated two filamentous fungi with therapeutic properties on Deception Island. On March 27, they published promising results in the journal Extremophiles for the treatment of pancreatic cancer tumors. This disease affected over a million people in 2022, both men and women. By 2030, it could rank as the second most deadly type of cancer in the world.

“Antarctica is a very little-known environment, where there are few nutrients, prolonged periods of melting and freezing, ultraviolet radiation… the microbial community there is different and can produce metabolic components useful for fighting diseases,” he explains. To find new forms of life and as yet unknown substances, microbiologists explore every surface of this continent.

Landscape on the northern Antarctic Peninsula. Image: Camille Lin

In 2018, a Brazilian expedition brought two ships to anchor just a stone’s throw from the Comandante Ferraz scientific station on King George Island. The icebreaker Ary Rongel escorted the oceanographic vessel Almirante Maximiano to Deception Island. From the deck, scientists and deckhands immersed a steel box in this volcanic crater open to the ocean, to sample sediment at a depth of 95 metres.

Back in Brazil, the researchers succeeded in isolating two new species of fungi from the genera Pseudogymnoascus and Penicillium. To test their therapeutic potential, they cultivated them and combined them with human pancreatic cancer cells. The two filamentous fungi deregulated the development of tumour cells by depriving them of nutrients, while showing no toxic effect on non-tumour cells.

One of the fungi species studied belongs to a genus that can grow in bat hair around the nose. Therefore, scientists remain cautious. Image : Wikimedia Commons

“The next step is to isolate the active compound,” explains the biologist. “Then we’ll be able to determine whether it’s a new molecule or whether it possesses new properties.” It would also be necessary to identify their genes, which could be transferred from filamentous fungi to yeast, to produce this remedy on an industrial scale.

Camille Lin, PolarJournal

Link to study: Camacho, K.F., de Melo Carlos, L., Bernal, S.P.F., de Oliveira, V.M., Ruiz, J.L.M., Ottoni, J.R., Vieira, R., Neto, A., Rosa, L.H., Passarini, M.R.Z., 2024. Antarctic marine sediment as a source of filamentous fungi-derived antimicrobial and antitumor compounds of pharmaceutical interest. Extremophiles 28, 21. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00792-024-01339-1.

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