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The Cure for Cancer Could Come from…Malaria?

Scientists have discovered that a protein commonly associated with malaria could one day lead to the cure for cancer. Found quite by accident, by researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Copenhagen studying why pregnant women are more susceptible to malaria, this protein binds to a particular type of sugar molecule that is found in the placenta and is prevalent in a high proportion of cancers. The researchers were not surprised by this finding, since cancers and the placenta both grow rapidly, often at the expense of other tissues.

Since the malarial protein, VAR2CSA, binds to the sugar molecules, specifically chondroitin sulfate (CS), on the surface of malignant cells, the researchers hypothesized that it could be used as a vehicle to carry drugs to the tumors. They tested their idea by attaching toxins, such as diphtheria toxin, to VAR2CSA and applied the combination to many normal and cancer cell lines. The complex was able to specifically target and kill more than 95% of the cancer cell lines. The compound was then tested in mice implanted with three types of human tumors – non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, metastatic breast cancer, and prostate cancer. Encouragingly, the effects seen ranged from significantly shrinking the tumors, in the case of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, to curing the disease, in the case of the metastatic breast cancer.

The work is now being developed for clinical trials to determine whether a disease as deadly as malaria can be manipulated to treat another very deadly disease in humans.

Source: University of British Columbia

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