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Potential cancer treatment discovered thanks to Malaria

  1. Oct 15, 2015 #1


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    Staff: Mentor

    Sometimes the enemy of your enemy is still an enemy, but also a friend...

    Pregnant women are more susceptible to malaria, scientists were able to link this to a specific sugar in the placenta that seems to be relevant for its rapid growth. The same sugar molecule is found in most types of cancer. The protein which malaria uses to target that sugar can be used to target cancer cells.
    Seems to be very effective both with cell cultures and in mice, tests with humans could start in a few years.

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  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 15, 2015 #2


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    Very cool :smile:
  4. Oct 15, 2015 #3
    We need to speed this up!
  5. Oct 16, 2015 #4


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    One concern with the treatment is that it uses a foreign protein which is likely to provoke a reaction from the body's immune system (indeed, those who have had malaria may already have antibodies against that protein). The mice experiments were done using a xenograft tumor models in which researchers put human cancer cells into mice. These experiments require the use of immunocompromised mice, or else the mouse's immune systems would react to the human tumor cells. The fact that the mice were immunocompromised probably allowed the researchers to circumvent problems with immunity. However, they will likely run into those problems when trying to treat humans. A better test would have been to try to treat tumors in non-immunocompromised mice.

    However, a promising alternative approach would be to generate monoclonal antibodies against the same eptitope that the malaria protein targets. Whether those antibodies show the same specificity and efficacy, however, will remain to be seen.

    Biology is complicated, science is hard, and addressing issues like these are why it should take a few years before we should be thinking of testing this therapy in humans.
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