Tick saliva could hold cancer cure: Brazilian scientists

Aug 28, 2009 by Marc Burleigh
Tick
Adult deer tick, Ixodes scapularis. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

It may be one of nature's repulsive little blood-sucking parasites, but the humble tick could yield a future cure for cancers of the skin, liver and pancreas, Brazilian researchers have discovered.

They have identified a protein in the saliva of a common South American tick, Amblyomma cajennense, that apparently reduces and can even eradicate cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells alone.

"This is a radical innovation," said Ana Marisa Chudzinski-Tavassi, the molecular biologist at the Instituto Butantan in Sao Paulo who is leading the research.

"The component of the saliva of this tick... could be the cure for cancer," she told AFP.

She said she stumbled on the properties of the protein, called Factor X active, while testing the anti-coagulant properties of the tick's saliva -- the way it stops blood thickening and clotting so the tick can keep gorging itself on its host.

The protein shares some characteristics with a common anti-coagulant called TFPI (Tissue Factor Pathway Inhibitor), specifically a Kunitz-type inhibitor which also has been shown to interfere with cell growth.

A theory that the protein might have an effect on led to laboratory tests on cell cultures -- which exceeded all expectations.

"To our surprise it didn't kill normal cells, which were also tested," Chudzinski-Tavassi said. "But it did kill the tumorous cells that were being analyzed."

In her modest lab in the institute, housed in a rundown building, a line of immobile bloated ticks could be seen lined up with straws under their heads.

The small amounts of captured that way was reproduced many times over in yeast vats so that tests could be carried out on lab rats with cancer.

The results have been more than promising.

"If I treat every day for 14 days an animal's , a small tumor, this tumor doesn't develop -- it even regresses. The tumor mass shrinks. If I treat for 42 days, you totally eliminate the tumor," the scientist said.

Producing a medicine from the find, though, will require years of clinical tests and a significant financial investment -- neither of which Brazil is geared to provide.

Chudzinski-Tavassi has applied for a patent on the tick , and is presenting her team's discovery in medical journals and conferences around the world.

But she says moving beyond her lab "proof of concept" will be frustratingly difficult.

"To discover this is one thing. To turn it into a medicine is a whole other thing entirely," she said.

(c) 2009 AFP

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User comments : 7

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earls
3 / 5 (5) Aug 28, 2009
Great, and here I thought they were useless.

Next we'll find out fly shit cures AIDS.
MongHTanPhD
5 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
RE: Standard anticancer drug discovery procedures!?

Chudzinski-Tavassi has applied for a patent on the tick protein, and is presenting her team's discovery in medical journals and conferences around the world.

But she says moving beyond her lab "proof of concept" will be frustratingly difficult.

"To discover this is one thing. To turn it into a medicine is a whole other thing entirely," she said.


Contrary to difficulties that she might have had anticipated: I think if her discovery had had been properly conducted -- especially in and under the universal drug discovery procedures and standards -- and proved to be as good as what she has had claimed, the big biopharmas would show up at her doorsteps in no time!? Good luck to Ms Chudzinski-Tavassi of Brazil!

Best wishes, Mong 8/28/9usct9:08a; practical science-philosophy critic; author "Decoding Scientism" and "Consciousness & the Subconscious" (works in progress since July 2007), "Gods, Genes, Conscience" (2006: http://www.iunive...95379907 ) and "Gods, Genes, Conscience: Global Dialogues Now" (blogging avidly since 2006: http://www2.blogg...50569778 ).
googleplex
3 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
It wouldn't be the first time that a parasite had some symbiotic payback to its host (e.g. maggots and leaches). However announcing a cure for cancer has to be treated with some scepticism. If there is even a thread of truth in this we can expect to see billions poored into R&D and drug production.
Shaffer
5 / 5 (1) Aug 28, 2009
My only comment.....BITE ME
John_balls
not rated yet Aug 28, 2009
My only comment.....BITE ME

lololol.
rfw
not rated yet Aug 28, 2009
Create mutant ticks that cure cancer in every cancer-positive person they bite. Turn them loose in the fields and plains to breed and eat well.....
zevkirsh
not rated yet Aug 29, 2009
yea i think what they are looking for is lime disease.