Japanese Scientists Discover a Worm that Can Kill Cancer Cells

Researchers at the University of Osaka conducted a study showing that a marine worm coated with hydrogel could be an ally in the fight against cancer.

Anisakis simplex

Photo: Wikimedia-Anilocra

LatinAmerican Post | Joshua Radesca

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Leer en español: Científicos japoneses descubren un gusano que puede matar células cancerígenas

Cancer is one of the most worrying diseases today. The World Health Organization says it is the leading cause of death worldwide. In 2020 alone, 10 million deaths were attributed to this disease. For this reason, there are multiple investigations that are carried out in all latitudes of the planet in search of drugs, treatments, or any tool that helps to optimize the fight against cancer.

A very promising discovery in this area is made by Japanese scientists, who claim that a class of free-living microscopic worms known as nematodes manage to kill cancer cells. This is indicated by a study by the University of Osaka published in the scientific "journal Materials Today Bio".

In this text we will tell you what was discovered and how it could help medical science face cancer

What Are Nematodes and How Could They Help Fight Cancer?

According to a publication from the Department of Marine Sciences and Applied Biology of the University of Alicante: “Nematodes are millimeter-sized worms that live in the soil and in aquatic and marine environments. Most nematodes are bacteriophages, feeding on microorganisms and organic matter in the soil.

There is a wide variety of these, scientists have identified more than twenty-five thousand species that can have an autonomous or parasitic existence in humans, animals, or plants.

Nematodes can cause diseases such as ascariasis, trichinosis, and filariasis in people if they enter the body. However, now they are emerging as allies of health since the aforementioned study by the University of Osaka revealed that a type of nematode of marine origin, called Anisakis simplex, has an unexpected taste for cancer cells.

“A. simplex has been reported to have the potential ability to chemically detect cancer and adhere to cancerous tissues,” explains the scientific article. This prompted experts to conduct experiments to test the usefulness of these beings to deliver cancer treatments directly to cancer cells.

The first work of the experts was aimed at developing a system for applying hydrogel covers to nematodes, immersing them in different solutions with chemical products that joined and created a layer along their entire body. Thus, they managed to adapt to the worm a suit of approximately 0.01 mm thick in about 20 minutes.

"The pods did not interfere in any way with the survival of the worms and were flexible enough to maintain motility and the natural ability of the worms to seek out attractive odors and chemical signals," said Shinji Sakai, one of the authors of the publication. 

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Scientists at the University of Osaka showed that this layer gave the worms protection from ultraviolet light or hydrogen peroxide. Along with the fact that this layer could be loaded with carcinogenic agents that the nematodes managed to transfer and deliver to kill cancer cells in vitro.

The research opens the door to use these worms to transport various substances. Its usefulness goes beyond the fight against cancer. "Engineering the surfaces of biological organisms allows the introduction of novel functions and improves their native functions," the article says. "The nematode functionalization method developed in this study has the potential to impact a wide range of fields, from agriculture to medicine."

It is still necessary to deepen the studies in this field, as well as to determine what to do with the nematodes once their purpose has been fulfilled. However, for now, the discovery is seen as hopeful news and a step forward in the development of increasingly effective treatments to treat cancer.