Health In Focus
  • Advanced bladder cancers are difficult to treat and have poor outcomes
  • A protein derived from the malarial parasite appears to be effective in delivering lethal compounds to invasive bladder cancer and improving outcomes
  • Further research could result in the development of treatment that can be used in patients who do not respond to the current chemotherapy

A protein derived from the malaria parasite may help to deliver medication to chemotherapy-resistant invasive bladder cancer. This finding was recently published in the European Urology.

The research team formulated a protein (rVAR2) derived from the VAR2CSA protein of the falciparum malaria parasite. The VAR2CSA protein had previously been shown to target various forms of cancers by binding to sugar found almost exclusively in cancer cells called oncofetal chondroitin sulfate (OFCs) glycosaminoglycan chains. The sugar is also found in the placenta, and therefore the use of such an approach may not be advisable during pregnancy.
Malaria Parasite Protein: New Hope for Cisplatin-resistant Invasive Bladder Cancer

The researchers found that the sugar was abundant in the cells of invasive bladder cancers that were previously treated but did not respond to the standard chemotherapy drug, cisplatin.

The malaria parasite-derived protein was tagged with hemiasterlin toxin analogs derived from a marine sponge which has been shown to be effective against non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, prostate cancer, and metastatic breast cancer cells.

The research team studied the effect of the malaria protein - drug combo in mice, whose bladders were implanted with highly aggressive cancers that were resistant to treatment with cisplatin. They also tested the effect of the treatment on bladder cancer cells in the laboratory.

Study Findings

The researchers found that:
  • The malaria-drug protein was effective against cancer cells in vitro the laboratory
  • The cancers in mice responded well to the treatment
  • Seventy days following treatment, the survival rate among those who received the treatment was 80%, in contrast to the control groups where the survival rate was zero
This new approach provides hope for patients with cisplatin-resistant invasive bladder cancers.

Bladder Cancer

Bladder cancer, often a consequence of smoking, is more common in males as compared to females. Early bladder cancer shows good response to treatment. Patients with late stages like muscle invasive bladder cancer, however, may not be so fortunate.

Muscle invasive bladder cancer does not have many treatment options, which has prompted extensive research in the area. The chemotherapy drug cisplatin is often administered before surgical treatment to reduce the size of cancer. However, many patients do not respond to cisplatin and need more treatment options.

References :
  1. Seiler R et al. An Oncofetal Glycosaminoglycan Modification Provides Therapeutic Access to Cisplatin-resistant Bladder Cancer. European Urology. DOI:
  2. Bladder Cancer - (
Source: Medindia

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