mosquito spreading malaria

In a remarkable discovery, researchers have found that malaria-causing mosquito-borne parasite produces a protein that can be used to cure cancer. The discovery was made while researchers were examining why pregnant women are at higher risk of developing malaria.

Scientists found that the protein produced by mosquito-borne parasite binds to a particular type of sugar molecule in placenta and the same type of sugar molecule is also present in many types of cancer.

While further exploring the properties of sugar molecule — oncofetal chondroitin sulfate, researchers from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver Coastal Health and the BC Cancer Agency found that it can be used as anti-cancer drug while the protein produced by the malaria-causing parasite can used to carry the drug to tumors.

“Based on our clinical data, we helped validate that this could be applied to melanoma and lung cancers,” said one of the authors of the study Nhan Tran, associate professor at Translational Genomics Research Institute (Tgen) in Arizona, US. “This specific type of developmental protein — oncofetal chondroitin sulfate — is expressed in the placenta, and is also expressed in lung cancer and in melanoma,” Tran said.

Tran further explained that malaria uses VAR2CSA to inject itself in the placenta and binds to oncofetal chondroitin sulfate while hiding from the immune system. To demonstrate the findings, researchers conducted the experiment in the lab and showed that if anti-cancer drug is attached with the protein VAR2CSA, then it would bind with the oncofetal protein in cancer, delivering the drug to the tumor.

Researchers believe it to be remarkable finding as it paves the way for fighting cancer cells. While two companies — Vancouver-based Kairos Therapeutics and Copenhagen-based VAR2 Pharmaceuticals have already started developing the drug for clinical trials. However, it will take another three to four years for drug to get developed and clinical trials to start.

The study appeared in the journal Cell.

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