Danish researchers had just made discoveries that could lead to find a cure for cancer, while investigating the effects of malaria in pregnant women.
Scientists from the University of British Columbia, BC Cancer Agency, the University of Copenhagen and VAR2 Pharmaceuticals discovered a protein in the malaria virus that appears to be very effective in attacking cancer cells.
An unexpected connection between malaria, placenta, and cancer cells
Malaria has terrible effects in pregnant women, because it attacks the placenta. There’s a carbohydrate present in the placenta, which is responsible for its quick development. The researchers found that this protein in the malaria virus attaches itself to this carbohydrate, and doesn’t let the placenta grow.
The key point of these findings is that placenta and tumors share a lot of characteristics.
Researcher Ali Salanti, from the University of Copenhagen said: “For decades, scientists have been searching for similarities between the growth of a placenta and a tumor”. “The placenta is an organ, which within a few months grows from only few cells into an organ weighing approximately two pounds, and it provides the embryo with oxygen and nourishment in a relatively foreign environment. In a manner of speaking, tumors do much the same, they grow aggressively in a relatively foreign environment.”
They also share the same carbohydrate that makes them grow.
The same carbohydrate that makes placenta grow has been found on different cancer cell types. And the behavior of the malaria protein is the same on both. The team of researchers found that the malaria protein named “VAR2CSA”, attaches to the cancerous cells, as it does with the placenta, and it has the potential to inhibit their growth, and even kill them.
The studies had a success rate of more than 95%, and the scientists analyzed a wide variety of cancer types, such as breast, pancreatic, prostate, brain, ovarian, skin, gastric, and even leukemia.
“By conducting tests on mice, we have been able to show that the combination of the protein and toxin kill the cancer cells,”, said Danish researcher Mads Daugaard in a statement.
The malaria protein used in the experiments was produced in the laboratory, and didn’t have any risk of infecting subjects with malaria.
Will it work?
“The biggest questions are whether it’ll work in the human body and if the human body can tolerate the doses needed without developing side effects,” Salanti said. “But we’re optimistic because the protein appears to only attach itself to a carbohydrate that is only found in the placenta and in cancer tumors in humans.”
Dr. Salanti and his team are planning to conduct the first clinical trial in four years.
Image Copyright: knorre / 123RF Stock Photo