Danish scientists who were working on ways to fight malaria in pregnant women have accidentally discovered that the malaria protein they were using in their vaccine, when armed with a toxin, could kill cancer cells. The test was conducted on mice, and showed that the malaria protein first attached itself to the carbohydrate of the cancer cell, which later was killed off by the toxin. They hope to be able to begin tests on humans in the next four years.
"For decades, scientists have been searching for similarities between the growth of a placenta and a tumor," Ali Salanti from University of Copenhagen, was quoted as saying on the university's website. "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 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. He added: "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."
The scientists carried out tests on mice by implanting them with three different types of human cancers. The tests saw the reduction of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma tumours to about a quarter of their size, besides they also got rid of prostate cancer entirely in two of six mice. And out of the six mice with metastatic bone cancer, five survived.
"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 who 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."