I’m sure you've been here before….you’re at a family gathering, and some distant relative or in-law hears that your research involves worms, flies, or yeast. You are snidely asked what use it is to do research on that, and then asked what kind of job you could actually get with that kind of background. This happened to me (at a funeral), but I didn’t have either the speed or the smugness to rattle off the list of diseases understood or medications developed thanks to these kinds of organisms. Next time, I’ll just pass out a copy of the paper that today’s image comes from—booyah!
Throughout evolution, many genes are coopted for use in diverse organisms. Recently, the gene network that maintains the cell wall in yeast, a fungus, was discovered to also play a role in vertebrate angiogenesis. Angiogenesis is the growth of blood vessels from pre-existing vessels, and is an important step in transforming a tumor into a spreading, malignant cancer. The same research group that realized this yeast-angiogenesis link suggested that drugs affecting the yeast cell wall may also function as angiogenesis inhibitors for chemotherapy. Cha and colleagues found that an inexpensive antifungal drug called thiabendazole could block angiogenesis in animal models and human cells. Specifically, the drug disassembles newly-sprouted blood vessels. When Cha and colleagues grafted human tumors into mice, they found that thiabendazole treatment slowed tumor growth and limited growth of the vascular network. In the images above, the network of blood vessels in a Xenopus frog embryo is disrupted after thiabendazole treatment (bottom), compared to a wild type embryo (top).
Cha HJ, Byrom M, Mead PE, Ellington AD, Wallingford JB, & Marcotte EM (2012). Evolutionarily repurposed networks reveal the well-known antifungal drug thiabendazole to be a novel vascular disrupting agent. PLoS biology, 10 (8) PMID: 22927795