Queensland scientists say spit from a cancer-causing parasite may contain a hormone that can make wounds heal quicker.
Spit produced by a cancer-causing worm that eats away at your liver can super-charge damaged human cells so they heal quicker.
Queensland scientists say a growth hormone found in the Southeast Asian liver fluke’s spit could be used to treat chronic wounds that won’t heal.
“It would likely be used in a gel (which would be applied to the wound) and the protein would super-charge your insulin response,” James Cook University researcher Dr Michael Smout told AAP.
“We’ve shown it increases wound healing speed and now we’re looking at how it’s doing that.”
Dr Smout and his colleagues have been studying the parasite, which causes cancer and kills tens of thousands of people in Southeast Asia, in the hope of finding a vaccine.
People contract the worm, which lives in more than nine million people but is rarely found in Australia, by ingesting contaminated raw fish.
Researchers found that as the parasite eats away at a person’s liver it simultaneously repairs the damage it has made.
The newly discovered hormone in the fluke’s spit is thought to be responsible for the repair job, encouraging damaged cells to repair quicker.
Unfortunately the hormone can also encourage cells to multiply quickly and uncontrollably which can stimulate the growth of cancer cells.
Dr Smout says it appears the parasite releases the growth hormone to ensure the longevity of its food supply.
“This is good for the host in the short term but repeated wounding and healing over decades… can lead to this deadly form of cancer,” Dr Smout said.
The parasite, which can be treated with drugs, kills more than 20,000 people each year in Thailand alone.
Dr Smout and his colleagues are hopeful their research will lead to vaccines to prevent cancer in impoverished parts of Asia and to new treatments for non-healing wounds.
Chronic wounds don’t heal normally or take significantly longer to heal and are an increasing problem for smokers, diabetics and the elderly.