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Axolotl eggs could provide a potent weapon in fight against cancer

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January 19, 2011

Researchers have used an axolotl oocyte extract to reactivate tumor suppressor genes and s...

Researchers have used an axolotl oocyte extract to reactivate tumor suppressor genes and stop cancer growing

A common cause of cancer is when cells are altered or mutated and the body’s tumor suppressor genes are switched off. Scientists at the University of Nottingham have managed to bring cancer cells back under control by reactivating the cells’ cancer suppressor genes using an extract from axolotl oocytes. The scientists say the discovery could form a powerful new technology platform for the treatment of a variety of cancers.

The process of cell division is controlled by specific genes and these are turned “on” or “off” depending on their function. Among the most important of these genes are tumor suppressor genes. These genes repress the development of cancers and normally act as a control point in the cell division cycle. Therefore, the switching off of tumor suppressor genes is a common cause of cancers.

The on/off switch in genes is controlled by the modification of proteins that are bound to the DNA in a cell, which are known as epigenetic modifications. Tumour suppressor genes in many cancers are switched off by epigenetic marks, which is the underlying cause of tumors.

In an effort to reverse this process the researchers looked to the axolotl salamander – an animal well known for its ability to regenerate most of its body parts. The scientists found that humans evolved from animals that closely resemble axolotls and therefore, proteins in axolotls are very similar to those in humans. Axolotl oocytes – eggs prior to ovulation – are also packed with molecules that have very powerful epigenetic modifying activity and a powerful capacity to change epigenetic marks on the DNA of human cells.

By treating the cancerous cells with axolotl oocyte extract, the researchers were able to reactivate the tumor suppressor genes and stop the cancer from growing. After 60 days there was still no evidence of cancerous growth.

The researchers say the identification of the proteins in axolotl oocytes responsible for this tumor reversing activity is a major goal of future research, and could form a powerful weapon in the fight against cancer.

The University of Nottingham team’s research appears in the journal Molecular Cancer.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
10 Comments

I hope this will not trigger a devastating hunting for Axolotl eggs. I know this is a scientific research, however, I remember when people rushed after sharks and certain serpents in order to find a cure for cancer.

Leon Aguilera Radford
19th January, 2011 @ 11:21 pm PST

Interesting. There is a notion that by eating fireflies vision will be improved. There are people who collect fireflies from trees in the night, fry them and eat.

Yesterday in our area a person was selling black stones taken from Cobra Snake head saying that will help keep away from snakes.

Such LOCAL BILEAF will result in the hunting and eventually extinct of the species.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India

Anumakonda Jagadeesh
20th January, 2011 @ 02:12 am PST

I think Axolotls were on brink of extinction a long time ago before they were discovered to have self healing skills.

I don't think they are nowadays though as they are bred for just these skills.

You can even get them as expensive pets.

I think they are protected in the wild and I doubt anyone would need to get them from the wild either as they have been bred for over 200 yrs.

Facebook User
20th January, 2011 @ 10:07 am PST

This sounds wonderful, so long as axolotl proteins binding to human DNA don't turn you into a regenerating half-human, half-salamander (although DARPA probably is hoping for that outcome). Another problem will be getting the proteins into - and only into - tumor cells. It doesn't sound like there's been research yet on what effect this might have on human healthy cells. It might turn off important genes.

Secondly, in response to the previous comments - I'm not losing sleep worrying about the extinction of creatures that can tear me to pieces or poison me. Humanity works to save cuddly creatures from extinction (like pandas). If it's not huggable, it's on its own. ;-)

alcalde
20th January, 2011 @ 10:28 am PST

The axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum) is endangered in the wild due to loss of habitat and intrusion of exotic species. However, it is widely bred in captivity as an aquarium pet. I doubt if this will set off a search for wild axolotl eggs since they are hard to find and very easy to get from captive bred individuals.

Page Schorer
20th January, 2011 @ 01:56 pm PST

It's NOT the eggs that are used here, but the oocytes, so it's not just a matter of collecting the eggs. Collecting the oocytes is a surgical procedure that I doubt most people could perform.

CarolinadeWitte
25th January, 2011 @ 03:06 am PST

I think you miss the point... once you can identify and synthesize the protein, the Axolotl is conveying the blueprint, than it is synthesized. This will no more affect the axolotl than the discovery of quinine and salicylic acid in the Cinchona bush has caused its extinction. There will be a pill.

More concerning is the extinction rate of novel species under our watch that represent the genetic inheritance we are squandering. Hopefully, discoveries like these make us think about what that means.

Tom Silverstrim
4th February, 2011 @ 08:54 pm PST

"The scientists found that humans evolved from animals that closely resemble axolotls"

What? Did I read that correctly? Wow!

cgodau
27th May, 2011 @ 08:25 am PDT

In truth, Axolotls (Ambystoma mexicanum) ARE all but extinct in the wild. There is no rush on egg hunting as there are none to be found down there in Mexico City. The good news is the axolotl is well established in captivity, easy to culture, and exceedingly common.

In fact the animals in this study are all lab cultured, or hobbyist cultured.

Facebook User
19th March, 2012 @ 09:42 am PDT

As an axolotl enthusiast, breeding axolotls can be (with the right animal) quite easy, which is why they were a scientific model animal for so long. I'd be quite interested in seeing if the next course of action involves breeding axolotls which have enhanced epigenetic qualities, especially those individuals who retain full regenerative abilities post sexual maturity, and seeing how those cells respond compared to the specimens used in this study.

Also, I would have no problems whatsoever with becoming part axolotl!

Caitlin Williams
31st January, 2013 @ 05:31 am PST
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