Scientists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark claim to have accidentally discovered a protein in malaria which targets cancerous tumors.
The researchers were trying to develop a malaria vaccine when they stumbled upon this unexpected side effect, which may lead to a cure for cancer, notes Medical Daily.
Malaria, which is spread via mosquitoes, is a special threat for pregnant women because malaria can attack the mom-to-be's placenta.
However, placentas and cancerous tumors reportedly share a common carbohydrate, which the malaria protein targets.
The researchers attached a cancer-killing toxin to the malaria protein, and the combo was able to kill more than 90 percent of cancer samples from brain tumors to leukemia, according to a press release from the University.
The same combo also worked in mice that had been injected with human cancer cells.
“Expressed in popular terms, the toxin will believe that the placenta is a tumor and kill it, in exactly the same way it will believe that a tumor is a placenta,” study author Ali Salanti said in a statement.
"It appears that the malaria protein attaches itself to the tumor without any significant attachment to other tissue," said Ph.D. student Thomas Mandel Clausen, who is also one of the researchers. "And the mice that were given doses of protein and toxin showed far higher survival rates than the untreated mice. We have seen that three doses can arrest growth in a tumor and even make it shrink."
It will be at least four years before human testing begins, and the treatment would not be a good choice for pregnant women.