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It seems as if every cancer breakthrough gets scientists that much closer to finding a cure. Today's news is particularly exciting because the treatment can destroy the majority of tumors, even though it's based on a serious disease: malaria.
While they were studying how to protect pregnant women against this mosquito-borne disease, Danish and Canadian scientists discovered that the malaria protein can hitch a ride on a sugar molecule and attach itself to an expectant woman's placenta. Because placentas and tumors are similar--both are fast-growing--and because cancerous tumors have the same sugar molecules as placentas, they decided to inject the malaria protein into different types of cancer cells, from brain tumors to leukemias. When they did, they found that the malaria proteins burrowed inside the cancer cells and killed them off.
Next, the researchers injected the malaria protein into mice with three types of cancers, including lymphoma and prostate. Again, the malaria protein shrunk the tumors in most cases, increasing the survival rate of the mice.
What does the future hold for this treatment? Scientists are confident that it will be available to humans in the next four years. Although they are slightly worried about the side effects that come with injecting humans with something as toxic as malaria, they're still optimistic. "The protein appears to only attach itself to a carbohydrate that is only found in the placenta and in cancer tumors in humans," said one.