The purified proteins by the Department of Biotechnology of Neiker-Tecnalia have demonstrated their ability to inhibit the growth of several tumor cell lines. This property shows that the latex proteins of this plant, which is very prolific and easily acclimated, could be considered in clinical trials for cancer treatment due to its anti-tumor activity. The research has been done in collaboration with the University of Oviedo (Spain) and with funding from the Department for the Environment, Territorial Planning, Agriculture and Fisheries of the Government of the Basque Autonomous Community (region).
Latex comprises various substances including proteins that play a very active role in defending the plant, like proteases, chitinases, oxidases and lectins. These latter proteins constitute a very valuable tool for studying membrane structure and for detecting malignant transformations, among other types of research. Identifying plants which have proteins of interest in biomedicine is one of scientific objectives. In this aspect, Neiker-Tecnalia has selected Euphorbia trigona, a succulent plant of African origin and belonging to the euphorbiaceae family.
In the latex of Euphorbia trigona the scientists of the R+D Centre and the University of Oviedo found three proteins belonging to the RIP (Ribosome Inactivating Protein) family. The purified proteins by specialists were able to inhibit eukaryotic ribosomes in cell-free systems, and also showed cytotoxic activity -the ability to inhibit cell growth- when tested with different tumor cell lines.
In addition to the antitumour activity, the researchers observed a possible antifungal activity –the ability to fight infections caused by fungi– of the lectins present in the latex of this plant. This potential antifungal activity opens an interesting line of research in finding new uses for latex proteins of E. trigona against various diseases.
Lectins currently represent the most versatile group of plant proteins used in basic and applied biological and biomedical research. They offer a broad range of potential applications in biotechnology, mainly in three areas: research into bioactive proteins, plant cultures for improving the defense system against predators, and biomedicine for diagnosis and therapeutic treatment. In fact, a lectin extracted from mistletoe is the active substance, marketed as Iscador and Isorel, currently used in treating cancer. Lectins can also display anti-viral, antibacterial, anti-fungal and insecticide activity.