Hyderabad, Feb 19 : In a first, researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology-Hyderabad (IIT-H) have isolated a strain of a fungi, found in the Antarctic region, which could lead to development of new cheaper treatment with fewer side effects for a common childhood cancer.
The fungi, named psychrophiles, was screened and isolated from the soil and mosses in Schirmacher Hills, Dronning Maud Land in Antarctica.
It was found to have L-Asparaginase -- an enzyme-based chemotherapeutic agent used to treat Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), where the bone marrow produces an excess of immature lymphocytes, a form of white blood cells.
Psychrophiles are organisms that are capable of growth and reproduction in low temperatures in the range of -20 degree Celsius to +10 degree Celsius, such as those found in the Antarctic region.
Currently, the L-Asparaginase enzyme used for chemotherapy is derived from commonly found bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Erwinia chrysanthemi.
However, L-Asparaginase is always associated with two other enzymes -- glutaminase and urease -- which cause adverse side effects in patients such as pancreatitis, hemostasis abnormalities, central nervous system dysfunction and immunological reactions.
"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 lead investigator Devarai Santhosh Kumar, in a statement.
However, the newly isolated Antarctic fungi was found to have L-Asparaginase free of glutaminase and urease.
The potency of these enzymes makes them promising as powerful drugs for diseases such as cancer, the researchers said.
In the study, published in the Scientific Reports journal, the team isolated 55 samples of fungi, of which 30 isolates had pure L-Asparaginase.
Maximum enzymatic activity was seen in a strain of fungus called Trichosporon asahii IBBLA1 and the enzyme activity was comparable to that of purified enzymes obtained from bacterial sources.
The absence of glutaminase and urease would prevent the serious side effects currently seen with the use of bacteria-derived L-Asparaginase.
"Fungal species have the ability to mimic the properties of the human cells, as both are eukaryotic in nature, which makes it easier for their usage in treatment of ALL", Kumar said.