The University of Aberdeen in Scotland will be focusing on how compounds found in sharks’ blood can stop cancer cells from growing, according to a report by CBS News on Friday.
The U.S. government estimates that over 230,000 women and 2,200 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer by the end of 2013. Over 40,000 people this year are expected to die from the disease.
Sharks were chosen for the project because they have robust immune systems and rarely succumb to infections.
There is already evidence that their antibodies can slow the spread of breast cancer.
While there are different kind of breast cancer tumors,WebMD says that about 75 percent of breast cancer are ER positive, meaning they respond and grow in the presence of estrogen. 65 percent of those ER tumors are PR positive, meaning they are fueled by progesterone.
Study lead author Dr. Helen Dooley, a lecturer from the University of Aberdeen’s school of biological sciences, said in a press release that IgNAR is only found in shark blood. IgNar works by binding to targets like viruses using a tiny attachment region, which is much smaller than the attachment areas found on human antibodies. This allows IgNAR to fit in spaces that human antibodies are too big for, which may aid cancer treatment.
NYU Langone Medical Center points out that some research has shown that shark cartilage might be able to treat some cancers, but studies have not yet proven the theory. Although sharks can get cancer, their cartilage contains a substance that stops the growth of new blood vessels.
The cartilage can also stop a substance called matrix metalloproteases (MMP), which is an enzyme that works within the framework of other compounds that exist between the cells in the body.
Foley says his team’s work could provide a breakthrough. “We are researching into sort of, for example, cancers,” Foley said. “So, we have several antibodies that we are looking at, one of which we know in vitro, again in the laboratory, if you put it into breast cancer cells it will stop those breast cancer cells from growing.”
Sharks have immune systems similar to humans, but their antibodies – the molecules that actually fight disease – are different to human anti-bodies and are extremely resilient.
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Emily Sutherlin is also the Pregnancy Examiner.
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