In the faraway verdant landscape of Easter Island, isolated in the Pacific Ocean, lives a rare type of bacteria that could be the key to curing a host of debilitating illnesses. Rapamycin, named for what the indigenous call the island it is found on — Rapa Nui — is used to produce an antibiotic named sirolimus, commonly used to treat organ rejection in transplant patients.
Now, researchers from an Italian medical team have proven that sirolimus can treat cavernous cerebral malformations and potentially several other conditions, reports Italian daily La Stampa.
Cavernous malformations are groups of small capillaries that are prone to leakage, and while the condition only affects 3 to 5 in 1,000 people in the world, and often does not cause symptoms, cerebral malformations can also lead to severe consequences — ranging from brain hemorrhages to epilepsy and loss of vision. Rapamycin acts on the disease by helping the body recover its capacity for autophagy, which is the process of degrading and destroying cellular components and waste to keep the body functioning normally.
CCM Italia, the medical network behind the project, published the study showing that sirolimus can stop the atrophy of autophagy and help the body recover its ability to eliminate unwanted material in its cells.
"This opens the path to potentially cheap and rapid therapeutic cures for the treatment of cavernous cerebral malformations," Saverio Marchi, a researcher at the University of Ferrara, and author of the study told La Stampa. "It's also being used in clinical trials for the treatment of complex vascular anomalies in children."
Easter Island is often identified with its mysterious Moai statues and its ancient culture, rather than any medicinal breakthrough. It seems the small Pacific island has given the world yet another hard-to-explain wonder, this time in the form of life-saving bacteria.