Scientists from the Université Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Epigenetics and Cell Fate, in Paris, France, together with collaborators, have pinned down how a dangerous tropical parasite that is transmitted by ticks manages to turn healthy cells into cancer-like invasive cells, according to research published online on January 26, 2015 in Nature. Microscopic Theileria parasites infect the blood of mammals, particularly cattle, causing serious illness. “Evidence that Theileria can infect white blood cells and make them behave like cancer cells was first published In Nature 30 years ago,” says lead researcher Professor Jonathan Weitzman. “Now, we finally think we understand the some important details of how this works. We discovered that, while the parasite is living inside the white blood cell, it secretes a special protein, [a prolyl isomerase] called Pin1. This protein is then able to ‘mess around’ with the cell and trigger mechanisms which control cell behavior –so it starts acting like a cancer cell. We also found that an anti-parasite drug can target this protein and reverse the cancer-like state. This is an exciting example of how parasites hijack the host cell and how these parasite proteins can be targeted by drugs. It also directly links a parasite protein to cancer-causing cell processes, giving us a real insight into how infection with parasites and other organisms might lead to cancer in humans.” Dr. Helen Rippon, Head of Research at Worldwide Cancer Research, which supported the study, said: “Some parasite infections have long been linked to certain types of human cancer. Schistosomiasis, for example, which affects an estimated 240 million people globally, is a known risk factor for bladder cancer - accounting for up to 3 per cent of cases worldwide.
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