IIT Hyderabad researchers in association with scientists from the National Centre for Polar and Ocean Research have recently traced a fungi in Antarctica that is likely to cure the cancer of blood or bone marrow- Leukaemia.
In 2017, a team of students and researchers led-by Asif Qureshi from the department of civil engineering went on an expedition to Antarctica for 4 months and have found a fungi that can fight Acute Lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common type of childhood cancer.
The IIT-H team included Devarai Santhosh Kumar, Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering and Asif Qureshi, Associate Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, along with their research students Anup Ashok, Kruthi Doriya and Jyothi Vithal Rao. The NCPOR team included Dr. Anoop Kumar Tiwari.
Enzyme L-Asparaginase is one of those chemotherapy drugs that frequently used to treat leukemia, as it reduces the supply of asparagine, an amino acid, which is essential for the synthesis of protein in cancer cells.
Once the team got a few samples of water, ice, and soil from Antarctica, they isolated the fungi collected from the soil and mosses in Schirmacher Hills, Dronning Maud Land, Antarctica. “We isolated 55 samples of which 30 were found to have L-Asparaginase,” the Prof Devarai Santhosh Kumar, principal investigator and associate professor at the department of chemical engineering said.
To reduce side effects, the team looked at psychrophiles as an alternate source of the enzyme which is capable of growth and reproduction in low temperatures, such as those found in Antarctica. “We will test the drug on animals before we go ahead and file the patent,” said Kumar.
“Extensive purification steps are necessary before L-Asparaginase derived from E. Coli and E. Chrysanthemi is used as a drug to treat ALL. This increases the cost of the drug,” said the principal investigator, Dr. Devarai Santhosh Kumar to NDTV.
Psychrophiles can be an alternative source of the enzyme, feels the research team. They are organisms that are capable of growth and reproduction in low temperatures in the range of -20 °C to +10 °C, such as those found in Antarctic regions. They also adapt themselves to the extreme living conditions and comes with modified life processes.
Further, the ‘anti-freeze’ enzymes are so powerful that it can work even at the freezing temperatures of the poles, unlike mesophiles that live in more habitable zones of the earth. The discovery seems promising and may be powerful enough to counter diseases like cancer.