Useful Little Blood SuckersIt goes to show that you never know where science is going to make its next discovery. Brazilian researchers were studying the repulsive (to me anyway -- maybe some of you think they're cuddly) Amblyomma cajennense tick and discovered an interesting protein in its spit. After some testing on rats with tumors, it looks like tick saliva might hold the key to cure cancers of the skin, liver and pancreas. More details below.
How Does it Work?According to AFP, the Factor X active protein in the tick spit "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." Since a cancer is basically a group of cells that are growing out of control, controlling this growth is very important.
So the protein was tested on cultures of cancerous cells and "exceeded all expectations." It didn't kill normal cells, just those with cancer!
The next step was testing on rats:
"If I treat every day for 14 days an animal's tumor, 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.
Don't Uncork the Champagne YetBut of course, these results are still just phase 1. the scientists might yet hit speed bumps, or even walls, and not be able to turn this into a cancer treatment. And even if everything works fine, it could take a few years before a drug is made.
But it's very promising, and goes to show that we still have much to learn from nature and that when we destroy it, we could be losing things like... tick spit.