Through an incredibly happy accident, researchers found that a malaria vaccine could be the answer against cancer that we’ve been looking for across decades of research.
- Researchers were looking for a way to treat malaria in pregnant women
- Both the placenta and a tumor present with the same carbohydrate that influences their growth
- The Malaria parasite attaches itself to it, which could be the best tool for delivering toxins directly to the cells
- Trials in mice showed a 25% decrease in tumor sizes
Researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Copenhagen were trying to find a vaccine that would fight malaria in pregnant women. It’s a highly dangerous disease that spreads to humans through a mosquito bite. According to UNICEF, it’s the cause of 1 million deaths across the world each year.
The infection is particularly dangerous to pregnant women. The Malaria parasite essentially attacks the placenta, which is a vital for the survival of the unborn child.
The researchers found that the protein, called VAR2CSA, attaches itself to a carbohydrate in the placenta which helps its growth. That particular compound naturally occurring is also interestingly found in cancer cells.
According to Ali Salanti from the University of Copenhagen, the similarities between the growth of the placenta and the growth of a tumor have been investigated for years. However, they did not possess the tools for proper analysis. But the fortunately do today.
In essence, the placenta is an organ which manages to evolve from mere cells into a 2 pound organ in a foreign environment. In a way, a tumor does precisely the same thing, featuring aggressive growth, that has been attributed to the same carbohydrate. This particular function has become the center of the researchers’ focus.
The Malaria parasite can effectively attach itself to the carbohydrate that influences growth, be it present in the placenta or in the tumor. The tool of the dangerous disease can, thus, become the perfect driver for artificially introduced toxins that would kill off the cell.
According to the researchers, they managed to successfully separate the malarial protein that attaches itself to the carbohydrate, added a toxin, and the tested the results on mice. The rodents presented with three types of cancer: lymphoma, prostate and bone cancer.
By treating the first with the created compound in initial stages, they found that the tumor had shrunk by 25% in comparison to the untreated subjects.
The question now stands if the same effects will be found in humans. There’s no telling how it would react, and what measured doses will be needed to provide the beneficial treatment without other harmful consequences. However, this is an exciting step forward that may lead to one of the biggest problems of today’s medicine. A treatment for cancer, or perhaps even a cure, for those with optimistic inclinations, might be in the cards.
The possibility will be researched and hopefully hit human trials in the next 4 years.
It will be severely dangerous for pregnant cancer patients though. The Malaria parasite and the toxins will attack the placenta as well as the cancer. This still springs hope, and we have years to go until we might celebrate the irony of finding the possible cure for cancer in another deadly disease.
Image source: gawkerassets.com