Sometimes science’s greatest discoveries happen by complete accident. This may be the case wit curing cancer … Research into protecting pregnant women from malaria may have opened the way to a cure without any intention of doing so.
Danish scientists were looking into how to prevent malaria from attacking the human placenta when it was discovered that “armed” proteins in the malaria vaccine would also attack cancer cells. The malaria proteins latch onto the same carbohydrate in the placenta and in tumors. Scientists then experimented with combining malaria proteins with toxins. The proteins were then allowed to invade cancer cells, where they released the toxins. This, amazingly, proved fatal for the cancer cells.
A human placenta begins as just a handful of cells and within only a few months it can weigh two pounds. It supplies the fetus with nutrients and oxygen in the foreign environment of the mother’s body. This rapid growth process has long been compared to the rapid growth of tumors within the environment of a human body. Researchers have sought to understand the similarities of the placenta and tumors for years, and haven’t really had a place to start testing anything – that is until now.
Successful tests have been conducted on mice and in cultured human cells. The mice were variously implanted with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, and metastatic bone cancer. The lymphoma tumors shrunk down to about a quarter of their previous size, two mice out of six were cured of prostate cancer, and five out of six mice with metastatic bone cancer survived.
All of the mice in the bone cancer control group died. It is not yet known whether the combination of the malaria protein and a toxin will work to cure cancer in the human body, but at least there is another path through which we could pursue a cure. The nature and severity of side effects for humans are also unknown, but scientists hope to begin human trials within the next four years. Who knows… maybe when that day comes we’ll all be thanking Malaria for all it has done for us. That’s weird.