MAR 13, 2018 5:34 PM PDT

Good Skin Bacteria can Protect Against Cancer

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Our bodies are host to millions of microbes, many of which play essential roles in maintaining our health. Scientists are learning more about the bacteria that live inside of our guts and on our skin, revealing the ways they impact our lives. New research by scientists at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine indicates that specific microorganisms that live on our skin may help protect us from cancer; the work has been reported in Science Advances

“We have identified a strain of Staphylococcus epidermidis, common on healthy human skin, that exerts a selective ability to inhibit the growth of some cancers,” said Richard Gallo, MD, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “This unique strain of skin bacteria produces a chemical that kills several types of cancer cells but does not appear to be toxic to normal cells.”

The power of the S. epidermidis strain comes from a chemical compound it makes, 6-N-hydroxyaminopurine (6-HAP). The researchers tested the effects of 6-HAP by exposing mice carrying various strains of S. epidemis to ultraviolet (UV) rays, which cause cancer. A group of mice with S. epidermidis that did not make 6-HAP ended up with many skin tumors after UV exposure; mice carrying a 6-HAP-producing S. epidermidis strain did not get those tumors.

6-HAP can act to disrupt the synthesis of DNA. It also prevents the spread of transformed tumor cells and can hinder the development of skin tumors caused by UV rays.

When mice received 6-HAP injections every 48 hours for two weeks, they did not display apparent adverse effects from the treatment. But after melanoma cells were transplanted, the size of their tumors was reduced by over 50 percent compared to controls.

“There is increasing evidence that the skin microbiome is an important element of human health. In fact, we previously reported that some bacteria on our skin produce antimicrobial peptides that defend against pathogenic bacteria such as, Staph aureus,” said Gallo.

S. epidermidis seems to also provide a layer of protection against some kinds of cancer, said Gallo. More work is necessary to understand the mechanism behind the effects of 6-HAP. It remains to be seen if it can be used in cancer prevention, and if losing 6-HAP increases the risk of cancer, noted Gallo.

Sun protection is important. / Image credit: Pexels

There are over new one million cases of skin cancer in the United States every year. Over 95 percent of those cases are non-melanoma, which are often caused by UV ray overexposure.


Sources: UCSD, Science Advances

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
You May Also Like
DEC 03, 2022
Cell & Molecular Biology
A New Form of Antibiotic Resistance is Discovered
A New Form of Antibiotic Resistance is Discovered
Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem; antibiotic resistant microbes already kill tens of thousands of people aroun ...
DEC 07, 2022
Immunology
A Mystery Solved - Why Colds & Flu Are More Common in Winter
A Mystery Solved - Why Colds & Flu Are More Common in Winter
Most people would agree that colds and especially flu infections are far more common in winter. While we know that some ...
DEC 19, 2022
Microbiology
Understanding Why Gut Microbes Can Increase Heart Disease Risk
Understanding Why Gut Microbes Can Increase Heart Disease Risk
The microbes in the gut can metabolize some of the foods we eat to produce new molecules, some of which can affect our h ...
JAN 06, 2023
Microbiology
Specific Gut Germs Seem to Promote or Prevent Diabetes
Specific Gut Germs Seem to Promote or Prevent Diabetes
Humans carry around trillions of microbes in the gastrointestinal tract, and research has shown that the gut microbiome ...
JAN 11, 2023
Genetics & Genomics
Genetic Evidence Shows Smallpox Has Been a Scourge Since Ancient Times
Genetic Evidence Shows Smallpox Has Been a Scourge Since Ancient Times
Smallpox is one of the worst diseases humanity has ever faced, and it has many distinctions. The first vaccine that was ...
JAN 14, 2023
Coronavirus
Researchers Reveal New Details About How SARS-CoV-2 Infects Cells
Researchers Reveal New Details About How SARS-CoV-2 Infects Cells
The virus that causes COVID-19 uses the upper airways as a "launchpad" to infect others, said the researchers.
Loading Comments...