Researchers have discovered a protein from malaria that could one day help stop cancer in its tracks. While exploring why pregnant women are particularly susceptible to malaria, they found that the mosquito-borne parasite produces a protein that binds to a particular type of sugar molecule in the placenta.
That discovery led to another: that same sugar molecule is also found in most cancers. This commonality is understandable, because both cancers and placentas grow rapidly, often pushing aside other tissues in the process.
The researchers realized that the sugar molecule could be a target for anti-cancer drugs, and that the malarial protein, called VAR2CSA, could provide the tool for carrying such drugs to tumours.
To test that theory, the researchers attached a novel toxin to VAR2CSA and treated hundreds of normal and cancer cell lines. The drug compound specifically targeted and killed more than 95 per cent of the cancer cell lines.
The drug was then tested on mice that were implanted with three types of human tumours. With non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, the treated mice's tumours were about a quarter the size of the tumours in the control group. With prostate cancer, the tumours completely disappeared in two of the six treated mice a month after receiving the first dose. With metastatic breast cancer, five out of six treated mice were cured from metastatic disease. The mice showed no adverse side-effects, and their organs were unharmed by the therapy.
The results were published in Cancer Cell.
Based on material originally posted by University of British Columbia.