HANOVER, N.H. (CBS Connecticut) – The secret ingredient in some future cancer treatments may be…cat poop. More specifically, a microscopic organism that lives in feline feces.
Toxoplasma gondii is a single-cell parasite that lives in the intestines of cats. It also commonly infects humans, but people rarely show adverse affects because our immune system keeps the parasite in check.
Researchers say it’s possible to harness the immune response triggered by the parasite and direct it to attack cancer cells, reports Live Science.
“We know biologically, this parasite has figured out how to stimulate the exact immune responses you want to fight cancer,” said David J. Bzik, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.
What happens when the organism invades the body, the animal’s immune response springs into action, killing the dangerous cells and protecting the host. After the initial infection, the parasite remains in the body, but in a latent form that is relatively harmless.
Bzik told Live Science that the immune system releases cells called CD8+ T cells, which destroy the infected cells. They also destroy tumor cells.
The researchers say turning on the special T cells has extended the lifespan of mice with ovarian cancer.
“In an aggressive ovarian cancer, we found similar positive results, but when we treat a really aggressive ovarian cancer, the most aggressive ovarian cancer model that’s out there for mice, we get extended survival, but all the mice eventually succumb to tumors,” Bzik said.
They’ve also treated melanoma tumors. Even though those tumors were highly developed, they shrank to a non-detectable size after just 12 days. Bzik said 90 percent of those mice survived.
The researchers said these are promising results, though much more testing on animals remains to be done before advancing to human trials.
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