COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – Researchers from the University of Copenhagen have made a discovery that may result in a genuine medical treatment for cancer, they said here Tuesday.
The researchers made the discovery during the testing of a malaria vaccine in pregnant women.
In collaboration with cancer researcher Mads Daugaard from the University of British Columbia in Canada, malaria researcher Professor Ali Salanti from the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Copenhagen, has revealed that the carbohydrate that the malaria parasite attaches itself to in the placenta is identical to a carbohydrate found in cancer cells.
“We examined the carbohydrate’s function. In the placenta, it helps ensure fast growth. Our experiments showed that it was the same in cancer tumors. We combined the malaria parasite with cancer cells and the parasite reacted to the cancer cells as if they were a placenta and attached itself,” Salanti said in a press release.
Researchers from the two universities have tested thousands of samples from brain tumors to leukemias and results show that the combination of malaria protein and toxin is able to attack more than 90 percent of all types of tumors.
The drug has been tested on mice that were implanted with three types of human tumors. With non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the treated mice’s tumors were about a quarter the size of the tumors in the control group, while the tumors of prostate cancer disappeared in two of the six treated mice a month after receiving the first dose.
With metastatic bone cancer, five out of six of the treated mice were alive after almost eight weeks, compared to the untreated mice in a control group.
“It appears that the malaria protein attaches itself to the tumor without any significant attachment to other tissue. And the mice that were given doses of protein and toxin showed far higher survival rates than the untreated mice. We have seen that three doses can arrest growth in a tumor and even make it shrink,” said PhD student Thomas Mandel Clausen, who has been part of the research project for the last two years.
However, the only problem is that the treatment would not be available for pregnant women as the toxin will think the placenta is a tumor and kill it, the researches said.
Human trials are expected within four years, according to Salanti, who believes that the biggest questions are whether it will work in the human body, and if the human body can tolerate the doses needed without developing side effects.
“But we are 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,” he added.