The saliva of a tick, hope of Brazilian researchers to cure cancer
The tick does not transmit not only infectious diseases: its saliva also contains a protein that could cure cancers of the skin, liver and pancreas, according to Brazilian researchers.
By studying a South American specimen of this blood-sucking parasite, Amblyomma cajennense, they discovered that this Photoprotein destroys cancer cells while sparing healthy cells.
"This is a major breakthrough," says Ana Marisa Chudzinski-Tavassi, a researcher in molecular biology at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo.
"The substance contained in the saliva of this tick ... could be the cure for cancer," she told AFP.
The researcher says she accidentally discovered the virtues of this protein, called Active Factor X, by testing the anti-coagulant properties of tick saliva, which allow the parasite to gorse itself on the blood of animals or humans to which it is attached. 'attack.
The protein has common characteristics with a widespread anti-coagulant called TFPI, or Kunitz inhibitor, which also acts on cell growth.
Lab tests were then conducted to see if the protein produced effects on the cancer cells and their results exceeded all researchers' expectations.
"To our surprise, she did not kill the healthy cells, which were also tested," says Ms. Chudzinski-Tavassi. "But she killed the cancer cells that were analyzed."
In her modest laboratory of the institute, with decrepit walls, the researcher collects saliva from ticks by placing straws under their heads.
The few drops thus collected are then reproduced in yeast tanks to carry out tests on cancer laboratory rats.
The results are more than promising.
"If I treat a small tumor of an animal daily for 14 days, this tumor does not develop and even, it decreases. The mass of the tumor decreases. And if you treat it for 42 days, the tumor disappears completely, "says the researcher.
To produce a drug, however, will require years of clinical testing and large investments, two things that Brazil can not provide at the moment.
"To make a discovery is one thing. Turning it into a drug is another totally different, "says Chudzinski-Tavassi.
In the meantime, she has filed a patent application for the protein of this tick and travels the world to present his discovery, which has also been the subject of publications in medical journals.