Research Roundup: Spider Silk Stabilizes Cancer-Suppressing Protein and More
Maybe Spider-Man was on to something. Although spider silk and synthetic forms have been used for a wide range of applications, including bullet-proof clothing, biodegradable bottles and bandages and surgical thread, new research suggests it may have a use for cancer therapies. For that and more research news, continue reading.
Spider Silk to Stabilize a Cancer-Suppressing Protein
The p53 protein plays a key role in the immune system’s defense against cancer. P53 acts partially by finding and preventing genetic mutations that can cause cancer. That has made it an interesting target for cancer drugs, but unfortunately, the protein breaks down quickly in the cells. Researchers at the Karolinska Institute have found that by adding a spider silk protein to p53, the resultant protein is more stable while still able to kill cancer cells. They published their research in the journal Structure.
“The problem is that cells only make small amounts of p53 and then quickly break it down as it is a very large and disordered protein,” said Michael Landreh, a researcher at the Department of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology, Karolinska Institute. “We’ve been inspired by how nature creates stable proteins and have used spider silk protein to stabilize p53. Spider silk consists of long chains of highly stable proteins, and one of nature’s strongest polymers.”
They attached a tiny piece of a synthetic spider silk protein onto the human p53 protein. They then introduced it into cells, where the cells began to churn out large quantities of the protein. The new protein was more stable than ordinary p53 and killed cancer cells. Using various techniques, including electron microscopy, computer simulations and mass spectrometry, they believe the spider silk portion gave structure to p53’s disordered segments. Future research will focus on how the different parts of the protein interact to prevent cancer and how well cells tolerate the spider-silk component of the combination protein.
Heart Attack Risk—There’s an App for That!
A research team with The Scripps Research Institute has developed a smartphone app that can determine a user’s genetic risk for coronary artery disease (CAD). And their study found that people who used it and who were at high risk spoke to their physicians about appropriate medication. The app, called MyGeneRank, takes individuals’ genetic data from the 23andMe genetic testing firm and calculates a CAD risk score based on that data. Of the 721 people who participated in the study who provided complete information, the individuals with high-risk scores were significantly more likely to begin taking statins or other drugs to lower cholesterol compared to people with higher risk scores — about twice as likely. They began by promoting the app at scientific conferences as well as a Facebook advertising campaign, which brought in 3,800 eligible respondents, 721 of whom supplied enough initial and follow-up data for the analysis. Their next steps are larger, long-term studies of CAD risk-scoring apps that will include physicians and evaluate differences in cardiovascular health outcomes, like heart attacks.
Does High Cholesterol Really Cause Heart Disease?
New research from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences found that the association between so-called “bad” cholesterol, LDL-C, and heart attack and stroke, might not be as strong as previously thought. And in that regard, it questions the efficacy of statins when used to lower LDL-C and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. They found that the connection between decreasing LDL-C with statins had inconsistent and inconclusive results on their impact on cardiovascular disease outcomes such as myocardial infarction, stroke, and all-cause mortality.
A Skin Test for Parkinson’s Disease?
Researchers with the University of Bologna and IRRCCS Istituto delle Scienze Neurologiche di Bologna, Bologna, Italy, developed a potential diagnostic skin test for Parkinson’s disease. Currently, the disease is diagnosed with consensus clinical evaluation of symptoms. The researchers found that the presence of neuronal deposits of phosphorylated alpha-synuclein (p-syn) in the brain and the skin of PD patients distinguishes them from people with parkinsonism symptoms from the accumulation of another protein, tau. They believe this might help with early diagnosis and differential diagnosis of Parkinson’s among various parkinsonism subtypes. All the synucleinopathies, such as atypical parkinsonism, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) and corticobasal syndrome (CBS) have similar symptoms, but an accumulation of tau causes them. Parkinson’s disease, however, is marked by an accumulation of p-syn.
Fruit Flies, Gene Mutations and Autism
About a third of all autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is believed to be caused by de novo DNA changes, such as non-inherited mutations. Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital were studying de novo variants in fruit flies that occur in the Simons Simplex Collection (SSC), a gene complex associated with ASD that occurs in about 2,600 families. They also accidentally discovered a new form of rare disease due to a gene dubbed GLRA2 in the process. They were working with a fruit fly model to determine the biological consequences of the ASD-associated variants and chose 79 ASD variants in 74 genes identified in the SSC. They found that manipulation of many of these genes in the fruit flies modified their behavior, which offered functional evidence that the gene variants in humans had functional consequences. They developed more than 300 fly strains and determined 30 ASD-linked variants with functional differences compared to the reference gene. In focusing on one of the genes, GLRA2, they found a rare variant of this X-linked gene that was associated with neurological characteristics they had not seen before. One of their conclusions is that ASD may not be one disorder involving many genes but might be hundreds of genetic disorders.
Children with Asthma Not at Higher Risk of COVID-19
A study published in Pediatrics found that children and adolescents diagnosed with asthma do not have a higher risk for COVID-19 infection than children without asthma. The research was conducted by Duke University investigators and analyzed the electronic health records of 46,900 children ages five to 17 in North Carolina. Of them, 6,324 had asthma. The study involved a period from March 1, 2020, to September 30, 2021, which included the Delta surge but not the Omicron surge.
“Despite the continued general precaution regarding asthma and COVID-19, we found no evidence that asthma predisposes children to SARS-CoV-2 infection or severe illness from COVID-19,” the researchers wrote. “Importantly, we identified marked disparities in SARS-CoV-2 testing based on sociodemographic factors, highlighting the need for improved access to SARS-CoV-2 testing and care among certain vulnerable pediatric populations.”