Brazilian doctors hope a compound found in a common blood-sucking tick can be used to break down cancerous tumours in humans after successful results in laboratory animals. Tara Cleary has more.
It's not a pleasant sight; ticks having their saliva extracted. But according to researchers at the Butantan Institute in Brazil, the arachnid's spit could be extremely valuable in fighting cancer. Project coordinator, Ana Marisa Chudzinski-Tavassi, says her team originally explored the anti blood-clotting properties of tick saliva. But they soon found that one particular molecule, Ambyomin-X, also kills malignant cells. Tests on mice and rabbits not only reduced cancerous tumours, but did so without damaging healthy cells. SOUNDBITE: DOCTOR ANA MARISA CHUDZINSKI-TAVASSI, COORDINATOR OF THE PROJECT TO MAKE CANCER MEDICATION THROUGH TICK SALIVA EXTRACT, SAYING (Portuguese): "Usually with chemotherapy, though it has a bigger effect on tumour cells than on normal cells, normal cells are also always harmed. And what we've seen here, even with 42 days of treatment in animals, is that we aren't reaching normal cells. So the idea is that side effects will be far fewer." The tick saliva compound has successfully treated animals with cancers of the skin, pancreas, kidneys and metastases in the lungs. And Chudzinski-Tavassi says she hopes Brazil's National Health Surveillance Agency will soon approve human clinical trials. She says these could prove an important breakthrough in the fight against cancer and put Brazil on the biotechnology map.