For many years, Professor Martin Bergö and his research team have tried to define the biochemical and medical importance of the posttranslational processing of so-called CAAX proteins. Their work led, for example, to (i) increased understanding of mechanisms behind development of several serious diseases and (ii) ideas for new treatment strategies.

Serendipitously, they also discovered something that led them down a new research path. The discovery? Dietary supplements with antioxidants accelerates cancer progression stimulates metastasis – contrary to common perceptions and advertising messages.

“A world-wide multi-billion dollar industry wants healthy people and cancer patients alike to believe in the concept that antioxidants protect against cancer. But few or no studies show any protective effect. Instead, antioxidants appear to worsen the situation,” Bergö said.

His CAAX proteins studies have been running for nearly 20 years. These proteins form in cells and function properly only after they have been modified by enzymes. Bergö’s research team analyzes the five enzymes that modify CAAX proteins, the enzymes’ role in diseases, and whether they are suitable targets for therapy. This research led to ideas for new cancer and progeria treatments, among others (progeria is a rare disease that triggers early aging).The team is now testing and evaluating these treatments in preclinical experiments.

The antioxidant studies revealed that supplementing the diet with common pharmacological and dietary antioxidants accelerates tumor progression and metastasis in mice with lung cancer and malignant melanoma. The findings have broad clinical and public health implications, particularly because cancer patients use these types of supplements heavily. But the research has also increased the understanding of how free radicals (the target of antioxidants) affect tumor cells and lead to new ideas for how to use this information to develop new therapies. Now, Bergö and his team are continuing with partners to call attention to effects of antioxidants on cancer – in parallel with their work on CAAX proteins.

“We’re delighted with the research support from the CIMED and others. It’s important to support curiosity-driven basic research; this raises knowledge levels within society and benefits patients in the end. ”

Bergö leads a research team in the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition at Karolinska Institutet.

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Martin Bergö

Martin Bergö research