It is one of nature's hideous little blood-sucking parasites, but this humble tick could produce a future cure for skin, liver and pancreatic cancer, according to Brazilian scientists.
Scientists have analyzed a protein in the saliva of a common South American tick, which has a Scientific name of Amblyomma cajennense, that alledgedly diminishes and can even eliminate cancerous cells while not attacking healthy cells.
This is a cutting edge innovation to finally have a better cure for cancer," said Ana Marisa Chudzinski-Tavassi, the molecular scientist at the Instituto Butantan in Sao Paulo Brazil who leads the research about tick saliva. "The saliva of the tick and its components may one day be the cure for cancer," she told AFP. She said she found the properties of the protein, called Factor X active, while examining the anti-coagulant properties of the tick's saliva stops blood coagulating and clotting so the tick can keep eating on its host.
The said protein shares some common characteristics with an anti-coagulant called TFPI (Tissue Factor Pathway Inhibitor), categoricallya Kunitz-type inhibitor which has been shown to alter cell growth. Experimentation and testing show that the protein might have a reaction on cancer cells and it led to laboratory tests on cell cultures which exceeded all expectations.
"To our amazement it didn't attack the normal cells, which were also tested," Chudzinski-Tavassi said. The amazing thing about the tick saliva is it, eliminated the cancerous cells that were being tested. In her humble laboratory, housed in a rundown building, a line of pompous ticks could be seen lined up with tubes attached under their heads. The miniscule amounts of saliva filtered that way was reproduced many times over in yeast vats so that experiments could be carried out on lab rats with cancer.
The results have clearly shown promise. "I treated an infected mouse every day for 14 days with small tumor, this tumor doesn't grow it even degenerates. The tumor mass decrease. If I treat the mouse for 42 days, it totally eliminates the tumor," Chudzinski-Tavassi said. Producing a working medicine from the find, will require some time and a significant financial investment neither of which Brazil is ready to provide.
Chudzinski-Tavassi is currently applying for a patent on the tick protein, and will submit her team's discovery in medical conferences around the world. But she says moving beyond her lab "proof of concept" will be very difficult and frustrating. To finally discover this is one thing and turning it into a medicine is a whole other thing entirely," she said.