MAY 24, 2019 1:02 PM PDT

What do parasitic fish have to do with cancer?

Have you ever seen a lamprey up close? If you haven’t, you should probably count your blessings, because these fish are terrifying to look at. With their jawless, tooth-filled mouths, a lamprey, which is a parasitic fish that resembles and eel and feeds on the blood of other fish, is enough to induce nightmares in adult humans.

Yet new research published in Science Advances suggests that lampreys might be the perfect vehicle for drugs that treat brain tumors, cancer, and even stroke. The research comes from a team of scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Texas at Austin and analyzes a type of molecule from the immune system of lampreys, called "variable lymphocyte receptors" (VLRs).

VLRs are unique in their capacity to reach the extracellular matrix or ECM (think back to high school biology class!). "Similar to water soaking into a sponge, the lamprey molecules will potentially accumulate much more of the drug in the abundant matrix around cells compared to specific delivery to cells," explained co-author Professor John Kuo.

Because ECM networks compose a significant part of the central nervous system, the researchers think that VLRs are capable of transporting drugs to the brain more effectively for treatments for brain conditions, particularly in scenarios where the brain-blood barrier has been affected.

(Quick side note: in case you haven’t heard of the brain-blood barrier, it is a physiological aspect that stops potentially harmful agents leaking into the brain but also, therefore does not allow drugs to easily penetrate the brain. In the case of some health situations where the brain is affected, the brain-blood barrier becomes more permeable, which can lead to other problems but on the flip side but also allows drugs to get in.)

"Molecules like this [VLRs] normally couldn't ferry cargo into the brain, but anywhere there's a blood-brain barrier disruption, they can deliver drugs right to the site of pathology," explains lead author Professor Eric Shusta.

A lamprey, in all its glory. Photo: Phys.org

The researchers conducted their investigations on mouse models of glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer. They found that mice that received treatment of VLRs bound to doxorubicin, a drug used to treat this cancer, resulted in prolonged survival of the individuals. While more research is needed on this topic, the investigators are hopeful about what their findings could mean for future treatment methods.

Sources: Medical News Today, Science Advances

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
MAY 21, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
Molecular 'Switch' Makes Autoimmune Drugs Fight Cancer
MAY 21, 2020
Molecular 'Switch' Makes Autoimmune Drugs Fight Cancer
Researchers from the Antibody and Vaccine Group at the University of Southampton, England, have identified a way to repu ...
MAY 22, 2020
Cancer
Even minimal exercise can reduce breast cancer recurrence
MAY 22, 2020
Even minimal exercise can reduce breast cancer recurrence
New research urges individuals at high-risk of breast cancer to get moving, shaking, shimmying, and kicking! According t ...
JUN 12, 2020
Cancer
Reserach on APOBEC3A opens the way for new treatment targets
JUN 12, 2020
Reserach on APOBEC3A opens the way for new treatment targets
New research identifies how a protein, APOBEC3A, triggers genetic changes that result in various cancers. This expansion ...
JUL 14, 2020
Health & Medicine
Sick Children and Cannabis: A Hospital Offers a Lifeline to Parents
JUL 14, 2020
Sick Children and Cannabis: A Hospital Offers a Lifeline to Parents
A new report in the journal Pediatrics gets the conversation going on a much under-reported area: sick children being ad ...
JUL 22, 2020
Cancer
Investigating a New Target Against Esophageal Cancer
JUL 22, 2020
Investigating a New Target Against Esophageal Cancer
Esophageal cancer remains one of the most dangerous cancers in the world. Most therapies center around chemotherapy, rad ...
JUL 26, 2020
Cancer
Diet confirmed to be linked to prostate cancer risk
JUL 26, 2020
Diet confirmed to be linked to prostate cancer risk
A study published in Nutrients earlier this summer points toward diet as a key risk factor for prostate cancer ...
Loading Comments...