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A huge breakthrough: malaria protein could help treat aggressive forms of bladder cancer

Posted April 24, 2017

Developing new drugs always takes a long time, because everything has to be tested and perfected. However, there is another way of treating some conditions – using therapies originally designed for something else. Now scientists from the University of British Columbia discovered that a drug created for malaria is actually very effecting at combatting bladder cancer.

Bladder cancer is fifth most common type of cancer in the world. Image credit: Blausen Medical Communications, Inc. via Wikimedia

Initial tests showed that a drug, based on malaria protein, can be effective at treating chemotherapy-resistant bladder cancer by stopping the growth of the tumour. These news are coming right on time, because scientists and health professionals are desperate for new weapons against cancer types that are extremely hard to treat using current methods. Scientists performed initial laboratory tests a protein from the malaria parasite, called VAR2CSA, and found it is highly effective against several kinds of cancer.

Very aggressive bladder tumours are virtually impossible to treat because they are resistant to chemotherapy. Malaria protein can deliver cancer drugs straight into the tumour, which can improve effectiveness of the therapy. Scientists tested this idea with some laboratory mice and found that it actually works – tumour responded dramatically.

All treated animals were alive after 70 days, while the control group died out from bladder cancer. Bladder cancer is fifth most common type of cancer and it is also very costly to treat. Chemotherapy is the main weapon against bladder cancer, because at the last several decades there were little advancements in this area. However, some types of tumours are highly resistant to chemotherapy, because drugs do not find their way to the tumour and spread out in the blood. VAR2CSA protein can be used to deliver cancer drugs directly to tumours because it binds to a sugar molecule that is found only in cancer tumours and the placenta of pregnant animals.

Now scientists will try seeing if the production of VAR2CSA-based drugs can be scaled up in order to start clinical trials. If they succeed, it may be the biggest breakthrough in the treatment of chemotherapy-resistant bladder cancer we have seen in decades.


Source: University of British Columbia

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