Hope springs from the most unlikely places. Believe it or not, cat poop could one day save someone from cancer.
Jump-Starting the Body’s Immune System
Cancer researchers David J. Bzik and Barbara Fox of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College in Hanover say that a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii is their new hero. Normally found in a cat’s intestines, T. gondii is a worldwide, parasite that affects nearly 60 million Americans (who contract it by eating undercooked, contaminated meat, drinking contaminated water, or by direct contact with cat feces). Researchers believe the parasite could eventually lead to a cancer vaccine. They note that when T. gondii enters the human body, it jumpstarts the production of cancer fighting cells, like cytotoxic T cells, which make up part of the body’s natural immune system.
Ironing out the Kinks
This magic bullet against cancer in not without risks. As a single-celled parasite, T. gondii can cause a disease known as toxoplasmosis. Once inside the human body, T. gondii replicates and can cause flu-like symptoms. Patients with weakened immune systems can suffer brain, eye or organ damage. To solve this problem, researchers created CPS, a mutant T. gondii parasite that can’t replicate, making it a safe cancer vaccination. Tested on mice models with aggressive melanoma and ovarian cancer, CPS stimulates “amazingly effective immunotherapy against cancers, superior to anything seen before,” exclaimed Bzik. CPS’s ability to communicate in different and unique ways with the cancer and special cells of the immune system frees the immune system from cancer’s malignant controls.
Customizing Vaccines for Lifelong Immunity to Cancer
Researchers also expressed optimism in the idea of customizing a CPS vaccine to each patient and providing a life-long immunity to a given cancer. The process would involve introducing CPS in cells isolated from the patient and creating “Trojan Horse” cells with CPS that would be returned to the patient. This immunotherapeutic cancer vaccine would eradicate the specific cancer cells and prevent any future cancer recurrence. The mechanism of CPS needs more research before human trials can begin, but the potential for a cancer vaccine is very promising.