Cancer drug found hiding in sunflower seed protein

Mar 21, 2011

University of Queensland scientists have found sunflower proteins and their processing machinery are hijacked to make rogue protein rings in a discovery that could open the door to cheaper, plant-based drug manufacturing.

Dr Joshua Mylne, who led the research, has a personal connection with sunflowers - his grandfather, Alan Lemon, introduced them to Australian farms, creating a multimillion-dollar industry.

Now, Dr Mylne hopes his research has uncovered another use for these plants through the manufacture of cheap .

Dr Mylne and Professor David Craik from UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience unpicked the way sunflower seeds assemble rings, one of which has previously demonstrated potential as a drug for cancer.

The study, published overnight in the international journal Nature Chemical Biology, showed that the machinery used to process and mature otherwise dull seed storage proteins is commandeered by a protein ring, SFTI, for its own use.

Dr Mylne and Professor Craik used the model plant Arabidopsis for their research, demonstrating that the sunflower protein production system could be moved into another species and thus SFTI could be manufactured in a range of plants.

While this work is of interest to researchers by providing an understanding of how new proteins can evolve and how proteins are matured, it has wider applications for drug production. SFTI can be used in its natural form to block enzymes, and in a modified form to block enzymes associated with other types of cancer.

These proteins have not been broadly adopted by drug designers despite their potential to fight cancer because of the expense of producing them using traditional, synthetic manufacturing methods.

“Although SFTI and related proteins show great promise as drug templates, the cost to manufacture them is a significant barrier to widespread use,” Dr Mylne said.

“This issue could be solved through plant manufacturing. Seeds are an attractive system for the production of pharmaceuticals, as they are cheap to grow and their contents are stable at room temperature, and sterile inside their coat.

“There are also established systems in place for their production, harvest, storage and transportation, meaning they could be the ultimate low-cost drug delivery system.”

Explore further: Attacking persister cells that are responsible for making bacteria resistant to new drugs

More information: dx.doi.org/10.1038/NChemBio.542

Related Stories

Cell 'glue' opens new pathways to understanding cancer

Mar 11, 2011

Australian researchers have found a novel way in which the proteins that 'glue' cells together to form healthy tissues can come unstuck, opening new avenues to understanding how these proteins are disturbed in diseases such ...

Discovery first step to new therapies

Jul 14, 2008

In an Australian first, scientists at Sydney's Centenary Institute have mapped the anatomy of a membrane protein. This exciting discovery has the potential to turn the way we discover new drugs on its head and reduce the ...

Flower power may bring ray of sunshine to cancer sufferers

May 01, 2008

Dr. Jonathan Harris, a senior lecturer in Queensland University of Technology's Faculty of Science, and PhD student Joakim Swedberg, both from the University's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, are working on ...

The future of drug development

Sep 03, 2010

John Engen, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology at the Northeastern University, is at the forefront of research that will advance drug discovery and development by making it easier to analyze ...

Scientists discover compound that kills lymphoma cells

Apr 12, 2010

An international research team co-led by the Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI) has discovered a compound that kills specific lymphoma cells - a discovery that will accelerate developing targeted drugs to fight the most common ...

Recommended for you

Driving cancer cells to suicide

7 hours ago

Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich researchers report that a new class of chemical compounds makes cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapeutic drugs. They have also pinpointed the relevant target ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

GeeDoubleYa
5 / 5 (1) Mar 21, 2011
For the acronym challenged (like me), SFTI is short for sunflower trypsin inhibitor.
epsi00
not rated yet Mar 21, 2011
sunflower seeds have another property, they are muscle relaxant and are very useful for those who experience a certain type of back pain. One should take them at the beginning of a back pain episode but they are still helpful if the episode has started. They tend to shorten the duration of the recovery. It has worked for years for me. Another advantage is that the seeds can help you get a good night of sleep. Now how much should you take? I take about half a small cup of coffee ( the tiny cups used for espresso ) 2 to 3 times a day. Seeds tend also to suppress appetite so avoid taking them just before a meal.