An Explanation From the Scientist Behind That Cat Poop Cancer Treatment
In a scientific discovery at Dartmouth recently hailed as “highly shareable” by the internet, cat poop is being mentioned in connection with a newly discovered potential cancer treatment.
Toxoplasma gondii, a single-celled parasite found in the guts of cats, has been used in a lab to treat cancer. It might, after enough testing turn out to be a viable cancer therapy. However, toxoplasma is a strange, shape-shifting organism, and the kind cats poop out won’t shrink your tumors one bit. Still, Dartmouth recently publicized the very promising discovery: A modified version of toxoplasma, when injected into mice with certain kinds of cancer, switched on an immune response that the cancer had deactivated, which then allowed the body to fight the disease itself.
David J. Bzik, Ph.D. of Dartmouth’s Geisel Medical School has been experimenting with toxoplasma for at least a decade. He says the discovery that an altered form of the parasite might cure cancer is a big deal, but that toxoplama is weird and wonderful microbe that still has surprises in store for humanity, none of which involved ingesting cat poop by any stretch of the imagination.
He also schooled me on some interesting trivia I thought I knew about toxoplasma. What follows is an edited version of my conversation with him.
I’m reading a lot of headlines about cat poop curing cancer. Oh of course. They’re sensationalist.
What should they be reporting? We developed this strain of toxoplasma that doesn’t replicate.
Could you remind us what toxoplasma is? It’s a protozoan. Its closest relative is malaria, it’s in the same phylum.
And what happens when it can’t reproduce? It doesn’t cause disease in mice. It’s a great vaccine for toxoplasmosis [which], in AIDS patients is a really big disease. Also in cancer patients, when their immune systems are suppressed, they’re vulnerable to natural infections by toxoplasma. So having a vaccine is a good idea. This has not been tested as a vaccine yet in humans or cats, and we also haven’t tested the anti-cancer effects in humans either. This has all been mouse work.
VICE News host Thomas Morton swings from the trees with an international team of scientists in Panama that’s found a promising treatment for malaria, Chagas disease and breast cancer in the most unlikely place: The mossy fur of tree sloths. It’s yet another reason to not cut down rainforests. About half of all drugs brought to market from 1997-2006 came from plants, fungi and bacteria discovered by “bio-prospectors” in nature. And we see that sloths are just one of many new and unusual frontiers for this research.
There is a knot of pain just behind my right eye that throbs in time with my pulse. My eyes feel raw. My mouth is dry. Last night’s booze-induced heroics are a distant memory. In the harsh light of day, I feel simply terrible, and yet, next weekend, I’m liable to do it all over again.
When it comes to legal intoxicants, alcohol is essentially the only choice available. It is the world’s most widely used drug, and can be safely deemed toxic, addictive, and linked to violent behavior. As the failed American experiment with alcohol prohibition in the 1920s and 30s demonstrated, the desire for easy intoxication will seemingly always be a part of our society. But with a massive pharmacopeia and scientific infrastructure at our disposal, why do we still rely on such an imperfect means to accomplish that goal?
This STI Makes Its Victims Horny Before Killing Them
A Canadian researcher has found a new sexually transmitted infection on the scene that uses mind control to spread to as many unsuspecting victims as possible before turning their guts blue and killing them. Luckily, the highly contagious and resilient virus has only been found to affect crickets.
Shelley Adamo, a researcher at Dalhousie University, says she accidentally found the virus—officially dubbed IIV-6/CrIV—while conducting an unrelated experiment with bearded dragon reptiles and some of the crickets from her lab colony. Not long after the experiment, what Adamo says looked like perfectly healthy female crickets stopped laying eggs. So she sliced one open to figure out what was going on.
“When I opened her up, I was shocked, because usually females are packed with eggs,” Adamo says. “These females had no eggs. Instead, they were packed with fat tissue. Not only that, the fat tissue looked a little odd. It had this iridescent blue sheen to it, so I knew something was really wrong.”