Cure for cancer might accidentally have been found, and it could be malaria

By attaching malaria proteins to cancer cells, tumours could be burrowed into and then destroyed — and it seems to be effective on 90 per cent of types of cancers

Andrew Griffin
Wednesday 14 October 2015 12:07
Comments
Scientists may have found a way to revert cancerous cells to healthy tissue
Scientists may have found a way to revert cancerous cells to healthy tissue

Scientists might have accidentally made a huge step forward in the search for a cure for cancer — discovering unexpectedly that a malaria protein could be an effective weapon against the disease.

Danish researchers were hunting for a way of protecting pregnant women from malaria, which can cause huge problems because it attacks the placenta. But they found at the same time that armed malaria proteins can attack cancer, too — an approach which could be a step towards curing the disease.

Scientists have combined the bit of protein that the malaria vaccine uses to bury into cells it with a toxin — that can then bury into cancer cells and release the toxin itself, killing them off.

Cancer breakthrough revealed

The scientists have found that in both cases the malaria protein attaches itself to the same carbohydrate. It is the similarities between those two things that the cure could exploit.

The carbohydrate ensures that the placenta grows quickly. But the team behind the new findings have detailed how it serves the same function in tumours — and the malaria parasite attaches itself to the cancerous cells in the same way, meaning that it can kill them off.

Scientists said that they had been searching for a long time for a way to exploit the similarities between the placenta and the tumour.

NHS England action to save lives by catching more cancers early

"For decades, scientists have been searching for similarities between the growth of a placenta and a tumor,” said Ali Salanti from University of Copenhagen. “The placenta is an organ, which within a few months grows from only few cells into an organ weighing approx. 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.”

The process has already been tested in cells and on mice with cancer, with the findings described in a new article for the journal Cancer Cell. Scientists hope that they can begin testing the discovery on humans in the next four years.

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,” said Salanti. “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.”

In the tests on mice, the animals were implanted with three different types of human cancers. It reduced non-Hodgkin's lymphoma tumours to about a quarter of their size, got rid of prostate cancer entirely in two of six mice and kept alive five out of six mice that had metastatic bone cancer compared to a control group all of which died.

"We have separated the malaria protein, which attaches itself to the carbohydrate and then added a toxin," said Mads Daugaard, a cancer researcher at Canada's University of British Columbia and one of the scientists that worked on the research. "By conducting tests on mice, we have been able to show that the combination of protein and toxin kill the cancer cells."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in