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Malaria vaccine for pregnant women reveals promising target for cancer therapy

Malaria vaccine for pregnant w...
The hunt for a malaria vaccine has turned up a promising approach to tackling cancer
The hunt for a malaria vaccine has turned up a promising approach to tackling cancer
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The hunt for a malaria vaccine has turned up a promising approach to tackling cancer
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The hunt for a malaria vaccine has turned up a promising approach to tackling cancer

The apparent parallels between aggressive tumor development and the way a placenta grows inside a pregnant woman have intrigued cancer researchers for years. Evolving from only a small number of cells into several-pound organ in the space of a few months, scientists have long suspected that the placenta could hold clues to understanding and ultimately beating cancer. Now the ongoing search for a malaria vaccine has inadvertently uncovered one of its more promising secrets that holds potential for the development of a treatment for the deadly disease.

Scientists from the University of Copenhagen happened upon their discovery when testing a vaccine against malaria for pregnant women, revealing that the carbohydrate the malaria parasite attaches itself to in the placenta is identical to one found in cancer cells that drives their growth. The scientists then took to the lab to recreate the protein that the malaria parasite uses to latch onto the placenta, and then mixed it with a toxin.

This forms a deadly combination for tumors, as the addition of the toxin sees the protein drawn toward the cancer cells. Here it attaches itself and is absorbed to release the toxin inside and bring about cell death.

"We examined the carbohydrate’s function," says Ali Salanti from the Faculty of Medical Health and Science at the University of Copenhagen. "In the placenta, it helps ensure fast growth. Our experiments showed that it was the same in cancer tumors. We combined the malaria parasite with cancer cells and the parasite reacted to the cancer cells as if they were a placenta and attached itself."

Salanti collaborated with scientists from Canada's University of British Columbia as part of the research and the two groups proceeded to test thousands of samples of cancer. The results indicated that the malaria protein will attack more than 90 percent of all tumor types.

The technique was observed in both cell cultures and in mice. The researchers found that in mice with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the tumors of treated mice shrunk to about a quarter the size of those that went untreated. Tumors also disappeared in two of six mice with prostate cancer one month after their first dose. Five out of six treated mice with metastatic bone cancer were alive after almost eight weeks, while none of the control group survived.

Armed with its promising results, the researchers are now eyeing human trials, which they say are at least four years away. The approach would be unsuitable for pregnant women, however, because if administered the protein would attach itself to the placenta as normal and the toxin would kill it, in much the same way it mistakes the tumor for the placenta in other subjects.

The research is published in the journal Cancer Cell.

Source: University of Copenhagen

4 comments
piperTom
Besides curing (most) cancer, it'll be a big money maker: it's abortifacient.
Robert in Vancouver
Great discovery by the 2 universities involved. I hope they and the company they partner with make a lot of money and prevent many millions of cancer deaths. Without the potential of making a good profit, we would never benefit from such discoveries.
Firehawk70
I completely disagree with your statement "Without the potential of making a good profit, we would never benefit from such discoveries". Public universities and governments have been funding enormously life-changing research for probably centuries, and it doesn't take profit to ensure success - it takes really smart humans and an endless crap load of money. So much money that few companies could ever afford to subsidize the number of failures it takes to finally get success, and only governments can afford to solve those problems.
In fact, it's most often that companies come along later and reap profits they didn't truly earn, standing on the shoulders of the giants that walked before them in government and public university research. Most of the big success stories around today wouldn't exist without such research, but they claim credit for innovation without the slightest amount of humility. Apple's biggest success, the iPhone, is almost entirely powered by parts from public sector projects - the OS, database technology, GPS, chip-making processes, lithium-ion battery, the cell phone, UI design, touch screens, etc... Seriously - look them all up!
All the big internet companies, Facebook, Google, and really any other tech company which uses the internet have taken advantage of a superhighway that was unprecedented and not able to be built by any of them.
And how about those 2-3 rocket companies now saying "oh we've privatized space launch, aren't we awesome!" Well, yeah, except not a single company, or even all of them together, could have ever afforded to make the HUGE expenditures it would have taken to get where mankind is today in terms of space technology.
I could go on....
DocBlake
Here we go again, you see one of these about once a month and that is it! Usually because it causes too many side effects, or the cost versus profit cut its throat. Medicine makes billions off of treating cancer, not curing it. Chemotherapy is a big money maker though your chance of surviving the first 5 years is only 2 out of 100 patients? You could get better odds if just juice fasted a couple of days a week and did some meditation!
And those who are brave enough to subject themselves to the Chemo poisoning. End up with their bodies and immune system destroyed, chemo-brain and a pile of bills, our medical system is a wasteland!