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Circulating tumor and the key of its early diagnosis
Each year, cancer kills many children and innocent people worldwide, but early diagnosis may reduce the severity of the disease and could lead to a cure. Therefore, scientific researches made by researchers from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen led to the discovery of a new method for the treatment of cancer cells. A few years ago, Professor Ali Salanti from the Department of Immunology and Microbiology and his fellow researchers discovered a brand-new technique for the treatment of cancer cells. These techniques based on VAR2CSA protein which is produced by malaria parasite. They have shown that VAR2CSA sticks to a particular sugar molecule which is found in more than 95% of all types of cancer cells. 

An Anopheles mosquito
“We have developed a method where we take a blood sample and with great sensitivity and specificity, we’re able to retrieve the individual cancer cells from the blood. We catch the cancer cells in greater numbers than existing methods, which offers the opportunity to detect cancer earlier and thus improve outcome. You can use this method to diagnose broadly, as it’s not dependent on cancer type. We have already detected various types of cancer cells in blood samples. And if there is a cancer cell in your blood, you have a tumor somewhere in your body,” Professor Ali Salanti from the Department of Immunology and Microbiology said. 

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A blood sample containing malaria protein fused with a tiny magnetic beads
Researchers from UNSW Sydney and the University of Copenhagen have developed a new method to diagnose the early-stage cancer tumor cells in the blood using a malaria protein — rVAR2 –.During the discovery of this new technique and to translate this into a laboratory test, the researchers added 10 cancer cells to five milliliters of blood containing millions of red and white blood cells, and they used an artificial version of malaria protein — VAR2CSA — and amalgamated it with a tiny magnetic bead and then mixed it with the blood sample. The results showed up that the complex stacked to the malignant cells floating in the blood (also known as circulating tumor cells). And then be retrieved with a robotic machine that uses a strong magnet. By using this method, they were able to restore nine out of ten cancer cells which had stacked to malaria protein. This method allowing the isolation of cancer cells from the healthy cells and other blood components for diagnostic purpose. “Our method has enabled us to detect cancer at any stages — one, two, three and four,” UNSW Professor Chris Heeschen said. 
Malaria protein method — VAR2CSA — differ from the other methods because it does not depend on the cancer type. Most of the previous methods based on a marker found on the surface of the tumor cell, but not all tumor cells display these markers, so this makes these methods unable to detect tumor cells in many different organs. More than 90% of cancer-related-deaths are related to the metastatic spread of cancer cells from the original location of the tumor to new tissues and organs. And for the movement between these sites, the cancer cells are circulated in the bloodstream. 

A microscopic image of cancer cell detected in blood sample
A lot of experiments made by professor ali salanti and his colleagues to show up that malaria protein — rVAR2 — binds to all types of cancer cells and it is the most efficient at sticking circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from liver, lung and pancreatic carcinoma patients. The findings and results of Professor Heeschen and his team were published recently in Nature Communications as “The VAR2CSA malaria protein efficiently retrieves circulating tumor cells in an EpCAM-independent manner(link is external)”.


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