Researchers at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver Coastal Health, and the BC Cancer Agency may have discovered a a new viable treatment for cancer. The potential anti-cancer drug will target the VAR2CSA protein, a vector for the transmittance of malaria.

       For many years, scientists have attempted to discover a link between placental and cancerous tissues. Both types of tissues are characterized by rapid growth and may therefore share similarities in structure. In 2013, a “pediatric cancer dream team” was formed. The team was composed of experts in the field of cancer research. And in 2015, this dream team discovered a connection between placenta, malaria, and cancer: a sugar molecule that is targeted by a malarial protein.

       VAR2CSA, the protein of interest, binds to a specific sugar in the placental tissue. This sugar is also found in cancerous cells. Upon discovering this link, the Canadian “dream team” scientists recognized the protein’s potential applications in cancer treatment.

       A toxin can be attached to VAR2CSA, which will then bind to the specific sugar molecule found in cancerous cells. This cancer drug can then be delivered in “a precise, controlled way”, says Mads Daugaard (a senior research scientist at the Vancouver Prostate Centre and assistant professor at UBC).

       In a preliminary drug testing trial at the Centre for Drug Research and Development, the VAR2CSA protein with the attached toxin effectively neutralized 95% of cancer samples. This method was then tested on mice. The subjects, implanted with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, prostate cancer, or breast cancer, were given doses of VAR2CSA with attached cancer drugs. Each type of cancer was either diminished in size or completely destroyed. In metastatic breast cancer, for example, only one of the six mice was not cured of the disease. Moreover, VAR2CSA does not seem to harm the functioning of the body, as none of the mice presented any negative side-effects. The mice’s organs were also functioning normally.

       This discovery can pave the way to a new safe and effective method of cancer treatment. Currently, Kairos Therapeutics and VAR2 Pharmaceuticals are two companies conducting further development of this cancer treatment. Clinical trials will require another three to four years to accomplish, which will help test whether the treatment is as effective in humans as in mice.

February 14, 2016

Author: Frank Jia

Editor: Annie Yu


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