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NSF-funded researchers inch closer to stomach cancer prevention

National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded scientists reporting in the journal eLife have revealed that they are closer to understanding a risk factor for stomach cancer: how the bacterium Helicobacter pylori maintains its shape.

About half the world's population is chronically infected with H. pylori, a bacterium whose helical, or corkscrew, shape allows it to burrow into the mucus lining of the stomach. This sets up long-term inflammation that can trigger ulcers and, more rarely, cancer.

"Shape is important to the survival of bacteria," said Jong-on Hahm, a program director in NSF's Division of Graduate Education.

Scientists have long wondered how H. pylori becomes helical. Investigators at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, used fluorescence microscopy to discover how the shape develops.

"We're really excited about the fact that we're starting to understand the molecular biophysical mechanism by which H. pylori maintains its helical shape," said Nina Salama, the bacteriologist who led the study. Her group demonstrated that H. pylori's corkscrew shape is essential for its ability to infect the stomach.

A molecular understanding of how different bacteria species acquire their characteristic shapes could provide insights needed to develop better-targeted antibiotics.

“Some of these antibiotics that target the cell wall wipe out lots of different bugs,” Salama said. “Whereas something that is specific for a bug like Helicobacter, which has this special shape … could [in theory] result in a less-broad, more-specific antibiotic.”

Read more:

https://nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=299978

https://www.fredhutch.org/en/news/center-news/2020/01/salama-helicobacte...

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