Have you ever heard of the p53 protein? If not, you might get to know more about it very soon. It protects our cells from cancer, making it an intriguing target for potential treatment opportunities.
The problem researchers have found with the p53 protein is that it breaks down rapidly within the cell, making it challenging to develop therapies.
Recent work from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden found that by adding a spider silk protein to p53, it’s possible to stabilize it within the cell to make it more capable of killing cancer cells in the body.
Michael Landreh is the study’s last author, working as a researcher at the Department of Microbiology, Tumor, and Cell Biology at the Karolinska Institutet. “We’ve been inspired by how nature creates stable proteins and have used spider silk proteins to stabilize p53. It consists of long chains of highly stable proteins and is one of nature’s strongest polymers.”
What Does the P53 Protein Do for Humans?
The p53 protein works as a tumor suppressor. Its activity stops the formation of these growths in the body.
When someone is born with a single functional copy of the p53 protein from their parents, they’re typically predisposed to cancer. It’s not unusual for these individuals to have tumors grow in several tissues soon after becoming adults. Although the condition is rare, the protein is part of a complex network for staying healthy.
The p53 protein binds to DNA in the cells, stimulating another gene to produce the p21 protein that interacts with cell division stimulation. When those two elements work together, cells can’t pass to the next division stage.
By adding the spider silk protein to p53, the natural protein process receives more strength and stability. That allows the body to destroy cancer cells naturally before they can start spreading.
The Good and Bad News About Spiders
Spiders are one of the world’s most widely known pests. When people see them, they get scared and curious simultaneously since these creatures are so different than what we typically encounter in nature.
The appearance and reputation that spiders have typically have people keeping them off their property instead of embracing their benefits.
Spiders prey on many potentially dangerous pests, including mosquitoes, flies, and roaches. Almost all species carry venom, and some of them have a life-threatening bite.
We often say that bees are necessary for us to cultivate crops, but spiders are equally essential. Without them eating pests like caterpillars and aphids, we wouldn’t be able to grow much of anything. If you let some loose in your garden, they’re better hunters than birds or ladybugs.
Spider venom even has the potential to replace opiates for pain control. Scientists have already modified venom from Chinese bird spiders to create painkilling proteins. It has yet to be testing humans, but it has shown to be effective in its initial research.
Even spider silk has multiple applications to consider. This protein-based, biocompatible part of nature was used in the Roman and Greek era to treat wounds because it didn’t cause an adverse reaction. Synthetic spider silk bandages with antibiotic components have already been created.
Spider silk has also been used to create everything from bulletproof clothing to parachutes. If synthetic versions could be made on a large scale, it’s entirely possible that this option could serve as a replacement for Kevlar.
Why Aren’t We Farming Spiders for Their Silk?
Although research from the Karolinska Institutet and other efforts show that spider silk is promising, it isn’t practical to farm it. Spiders are known to eat one another, which means mass production outside of the laboratory is not currently possible.
Spiders serve as a food source for other animals, including birds, lizards, and fish. In the desert biome, they serve as a valuable resource for mammals. Humans even eat some species, especially in countries like Cambodia. If ongoing food insecurity occurs, everyone could be eating them while using their silk proteins to fight cancer.
Even though people get scared of spiders, they are essential to our ecosystem. You can find them on every continent except Antarctica. They control insect populations, which means their disappearance would create a domino effect that would eventually ruin the world as we know it today.
More research is necessary to develop the full potential of spider silk proteins as a cancer treatment. The next time you run into these eight-legged friends, offer them a word of thanks. They could be helping us transform how we perceive future medicine.