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Parasitic worm causes cancer, may also help heal wounds

Researchers may also come away with a vaccine for cancer that affects 26,000 people a year.

By
Stephen Feller
The oriental liver fluke comes from eating raw fish, which often come from fisheries such as this one in southeast Asia. Photo by James Cook University
The oriental liver fluke comes from eating raw fish, which often come from fisheries such as this one in southeast Asia. Photo by James Cook University

QUEENSLAND, Australia, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Researchers found the Oriental liver fluke, a parasitic worm that infects people who have eaten raw fish and can cause liver cancer, has a growth factor that could be used to help heal wounds.

Further research on the worm could actually have two positive results: the factor may be able to be used for wound healing, and could help to develop a vaccine against the worm-induced cancer.

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The researchers believe the growth factor shows specific promise for healing diabetic ulcers, which often are difficult to help heal.

"Diabetes is a big problem as we live longer and get heavier," said Dr. Michael Smout, a researcher at James Cook University, in a press release. "There are increasing numbers of inflammatory diseases such as diabetes and associated non-healing wounds. A powerful wound healing agent designed by millennia of host-parasite co-evolution may accelerate the impaired healing processes that plague diabetic and elderly patients"

Researchers found a growth factor in the worm sped up the healing of wounds in vivo and in the skin of mice. While the parasite appears to heal wounds, over time it also causes liver cancer, often living in the body for decades.

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Smout said scientists are still researching how the growth factor can control healing, and said the factor's use in clinical situations and development of a vaccine are still years away.

The study is published in PLOS ONE.

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