Breast cancer still kills hundreds of thousands each year, despite decades of research. A team of scientists now believe sharks could the key in the fight against breast cancer.
According to the BBC, biologists from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland are using a £200,000 grant from the Association for International Cancer Research to determine whether an antibody found in sharks can prevent the growth of cancer cells in humans.
“Our work centers on a type of antibody, called IgNAR, which is uniquely found in the blood of sharks,” said Dr. Helen Dooley, who is leading the study.
"IgNAR antibodies are interesting because they bind to targets, such as viruses or parasites, in a very different way to the antibodies found in humans,” Dooley said. “They can do this because their attachment region is very small and so can fit into spaces that human antibodies cannot.”
According to Sky News, the study -- estimated to take three years – will look at HER2 and HER3 molecules, which combine on the surface of a cancer cell, which causes the cell to grow. "We believe we can exploit the novel binding of IgNAR and use it to stop HER2 and HER3 molecules from working, and prompting cancer cells to grow and divide,” Dooley said.
As the Daily Mail reports, scientists take the HER2 and HER3 molecules and inject them into the shark, in order to trigger the IgNAR in their system. “It is just like going to the doctor to get your holiday shots,” Dooley said. “But instead of getting a shot in the arm, they get a shot in the fin.”
"With the funding from AICR, we can begin to explore the potential of IgNAR as a future treatment for breast cancer,” Dooley said. “This is only the first step in a very long process, but if our hypothesis holds true we hope to develop new anti-cancer drugs based upon these unique shark antibodies."
"We believe that funding research projects like Dr. Helen Dooley's is so important for the future development of more effective treatments to help patients who become resistant to drugs like Herceptin,” Lara Bennett, AICR's science communication manager, told Sky News.
As the Daily Mail points out, Herceptin was introduced more than a decade ago. It is a drug commonly used by women to fight breast cancer, yet it doesn’t work in all cases. "Whilst breast cancer is still the most common cancer in the UK, more than 85 out of every 100 people diagnosed with breast cancer do live for at least five years after diagnosis and more than 75 out of every 100 people live for at least 10 years,” Bennett added.
“We look forward to seeing the results of this research in the future as, although it is a very effective drug, Herceptin sometimes does not work or can stop working over time, so we’re in need of drugs that can complement it,” Dooley said.