Malaria protein is a useful tool in the fight against drug-resistant bladder cancer
A protein found in the malaria parasite shows significant therapeutic effect on bladder cancer, according to a study published in European Urology. The study is conducted by an international team consisting of researchers from Canada, Denmark, the UK, and Switzerland. Mads Daugaard at the University of British Columbia in Canada is the lead researcher.
Bladder cancer is a major health burden worldwide. Approximately 430,000 new cases of bladder cancer were diagnosed in 2012, leading to 165,000 deaths. The emergence of cisplatin-based neoadjuvant chemotherapy (NAC) has improved the treatment of bladder cancer, now NAC before cystectomy is the standard of care for muscle-invasive bladder cancer (MIBC). However, only some patients are responsive to NAC and drug resistance is a major threat.
Scientists studying malaria previously have found that the mosquito-borne parasite produces a protein called VAR2CSA that binds to a particular sugar molecule in the placenta. Subsequent research has demonstrated that the same sugar molecule is also present in multiple cancers. So the malaria protein VAR2CSA might be used to deliver toxins to selectively kill cancer cells.
For this work, Daugaard and colleagues tested the effect of VAR2CSA in mice implanted with highly aggressive bladder cancer tumors that were completely resistant to chemotherapy. Results demonstrated that the tumors responded dramatically to the malaria drug combo. The treated mice had much better survival than the control mice. The researchers believed that using VAR2CSA to target tumors could be a promising second-line treatment strategy for drug-resistant bladder cancer.
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