Potential treatment of cancer found in an armed malaria protein

Malaria-infected red blood cell (blue) (Credit: NIAID /Flickr)
Malaria-infected red blood cell (blue) (Credit: NIAID /Flickr)

Main Point:

Scientists have found a potential cure for more than 90% of cancer cases while working on a malaria vaccine.

Published in:

Cancer Cell

Study Further:

In a research, scientists were working on a malaria protein. They found that the protein with a toxin (“armed malaria proteins”) can destroy many types of cancer cells ranging from leukemia to brain tumors. Scientists found that the protein was effective in more than 90% of cancer cases.

“By conducting tests on mice, we have been able to show that the combination of the protein and toxin kill the cancer cells,” stated Mads Daugaard, a Danish scientist working at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Actually, scientists were working on a malaria vaccine for pregnant women in which the disease can attack the placenta. They found that a particular carbohydrate, which is important in growth and to which malaria parasite attaches in placenta, was also present in cancer cells. They attached a toxin to the protein having the ability to find cancer cells and bound with them. That toxin was then released into the cancer cells, thereby destroying them.

“For decades, scientists have been searching for similarities between the growth of a placenta and a tumor,” stated Ali Salanti from the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at the University of Copenhagen. “The placenta is an organ, which within a few months grows from only few cells into an organ weighing approximately two pounds, and it provides the embryo with oxygen and nourishment in a relatively foreign environment. In a manner of speaking, tumors do much the same, they grow aggressively in a relatively foreign environment.”

Scientists will start their first clinical trials in the next 4 years.

“The biggest questions are whether it’ll work in the human body and if the human body can tolerate the doses needed without developing side effects,” stated Salanti. “But we’re optimistic because the protein appears to only attach itself to a carbohydrate that is only found in the placenta and in cancer tumors in humans.”


Salanti, A., Clausen, T., Agerbæk, M., Al Nakouzi, N., Dahlbäck, M., Oo, H., Lee, S., Gustavsson, T., Rich, J., Hedberg, B., Mao, Y., Barington, L., Pereira, M., LoBello, J., Endo, M., Fazli, L., Soden, J., Wang, C., Sander, A., Dagil, R., Thrane, S., Holst, P., Meng, L., Favero, F., Weiss, G., Nielsen, M., Freeth, J., Nielsen, T., Zaia, J., Tran, N., Trent, J., Babcook, J., Theander, T., Sorensen, P., & Daugaard, M. (2015). Targeting Human Cancer by a Glycosaminoglycan Binding Malaria Protein Cancer Cell, 28 (4), 500-514 DOI: 10.1016/j.ccell.2015.09.003

University of Copenhagen. (2015). Malaria vaccine provides hope for a general cure for cancer. Retrieved from http://news.ku.dk/all_news/2015/10/malaria-vaccine-provides-hope-for-a-general-cure-for-cancer/

Usman Zafar Paracha

Usman Zafar Paracha is Assistant Professor, Pharmaceutics, in Hajvery University, Lahore, Pakistan.