Cancer claims plenty of lives each year and studies show that there are 1.6 million new cases diagnosed annually. Researchers are looking for ways to combat cancer and, just recently, scientists at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center found a way to come up with a new version of a parasite found in cat poop in order to fight cancer.
Medical News Today reports that T. gondii, a single-celled parasite, resides in the intestines of all warm-blooded animals. However, the cat's intestines provide an ideal environment for the parasite to thrive.
T. gondii is known to be the root of the toxoplasmosis disease in humans. The disease is said to have similar symptoms as the flu, with patients experiencing muscle pains. When left untreated, it can cause organ, eye, and brain damage. However, some patients with the disease do not experience these symptoms at all.
Healthline reported that the human body is able to produce a response similar to what is needed in order to get rid of cancer cells, which means that T. gondii may be used to come up with a new cancer vaccine. Professor of Microbiology David J. Bzik talked about their findings:
"We know biologically this parasite has figured out how to stimulate the exact immune responses you want to fight cancer."
T. gondii is said to be unsafe when injected into cancer patients, especially those who have weak immune systems. However, Bzik genetically altered the parasite in order to remove its ability to reproduce in the human body, which makes it safer for patients. "Once it's inside the cell, it cannot replicate, not even once. It modifies the cell but doesn't kill it," Bzik said.
The altered parasite is called "cps." Bzik and his colleagues tested the mutated parasite on mice with aggressive cases of ovarian cancer and melanoma. Based on their tests, they found that 90 percent of the mice survived and the remaining mice survived longer than they would have without treatment.
"It's the first stand-alone immunotherapy that's been successful—and trust me, there are a million things that have been tried."
Bzik and his team said that they still need to do further research in order to understand cps more. Though the altered version of T. gondii does not cause infection, researchers still have to test it for safety before it can be tested on humans with cancer. However, they said that the parasite has "incredible promise" for coming up with a new treatment for cancer.
[Image via ASU College of Law]