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Could The Cure For Cancer Have Been Found By Accident?

There are some accidents you can forgive. Like possibly discovering the cure for cancer. According to a recent study, a group of Danish scientists might have done just that by discovering that a potential malaria vaccine had the unexpected side effect of destroying and killing tumours.

Malaria is a blood borne disease caused by the Plasmodium parasite. It is spread through humans by the bites of mosquitos and, according to UNICEF, kills over a million people around the world every year. Malaria is especially dangerous for pregnant women as the parasite may attack the placenta, which puts the child’s life at risk. In their ongoing efforts to prevent these specific infections, scientists from the University of Denmark made a remarkable observation: Due to the similar characteristics between tumours and placentas, the same technique malaria uses to attack and destroy placentas, it could also be used to destroy cancer tumours.

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“The placenta is an organ, which within a few months grows from only few cells into an organ weighing approximately 2 pounds, and it provides the embryo with oxygen and nourishment in a relatively foreign environment,” study author Ali Salanti said in a statement. “In a manner of speaking, tumours do much the same — they grow aggressively in a relatively foreign environment.”

The researchers attempted to improve on this natural design by attaching a cancer-killing toxin to the malaria protein. They found that the combination was highly lethal; in lab tests, it was up to 90 percent effective in destroying various cancer cells. The lethal combination was also tested successfully in mice that were implanted with different types of human cancers. And while it may seem jarring to trade off cancer for malaria, Thomas Mandel Clausen, a PhD student involved with the research, explained that the malaria protein only attaches on to the tumour “without any significant attachment to other tissue.”
It will be at least four years before the treatment will be available to test on humans, and researchers are hopeful it’ll be a significant step forward in cancer treatment research. However, since the protein they use attaches to carbohydrates found only in the placenta and cancer tumours, this life-saving characteristic will make the treatment too dangerous for cancer treatment in pregnant women. “Expressed in popular terms, the toxin will believe that the placenta is a tumour and kill it, in exactly the same way it will believe that a tumour is a placenta,” Salanti said.
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Nobel Prize For Medicine Split For Anti-Parasitic Drug Discoveries

The Nobel prize for physiology and medicine were announced today and it has been split two ways for ground breaking work on parasitic diseases. Satoshi Omura and William C Campbell found a new way of tackling infections cause by roundworm parasites. They share the prize with Youyou Tu for her discovery of a therapy against malaria.

The Nobel committee said the work had changed the lives of millions of people affected by these diseases which are caused by parasites. Malaria, the mosquito borne disease, kills over 450,000 people eacmalaria_2695307bh year around the world with billions more at risk of catching the deadly infection.

Parasitic worms such as roundworm affect a third of the world’s population and cause a number of illnesses including lymphatic filariasis andriver blindness.

There were decades of limited progress fighting these diseases, there was a discover of two new drugs; ivermectin for lymphatic filariasis and river blindness and artemisinin for malaria was an absolute game changer.

Tackling malaria was failing, older drugs were losing their potency and the disease was on the rise. Prof Youyou Tu looked to herbal medicine to tackle the disease. She took an extract from the plant known as Artemisia annua, otherwise known as sweet wormwood, and began tasting it on malaria parasites. The extract was effective and had a high success rate of killing the parasites.

It is currently being used around the world in combination with other malaria medicines. In Africa alone it is saving more than 100,000 lives a year.

She is sharing the award with two men who found a treatment for roundworm. Their research led to a drug called ivermectin which is so successful that roundworm is on the brink of eradication.

Satoshi Ōmura, a Japanese microbiologist, focused on studying microbes in soil samples. He selected a number of promising candidates that he though might work as a weapon against diseases.

Irish-born William C Campbell, an expert in parasite biology working in the US, then explored these further and found one was remarkably efficient against parasites.

The active ingredient, avermectin, went on to become a drug known as ivermectin which is now used to treat river blindness and lymphatic filariasis.

River blindness is an eye and skin disease that ultimately leads to blindness. Lymphatic filariasis, also known as elephantiasis, causes painful swelling of the limbs. Both affect people living in some of the poorest countries in the world.