Opisthorchis viverrini, also known as the Southeast Asian liver fluke, secretes a growth factor that may help wounds to heal super fast, but the downside of being infected with the worm could also cause cancer, according to a news release.
According to reports, the liver fluke infects millions of people in Southeast Asia and is estimated to kill tens of thousands of people every year. A liver fluke infection is typically caught by eating raw fish, and it often lives in the human body undetected for decades before eventually causing cholangiocarcinoma, a bile duct cancer.
Because living in the human body is an important part of the parasite’s life cycle, it has an incentive to keep its host healthy while it chews away its cells. That’s where the growth factor secretion comes into play.
According to the researchers at James Cook University in Australia, the growth factor supercharges the healing of wounds and aids blood vessel growth. Researchers believe it has the ability to help patients with chronic wounds to heal much faster, such as diabetic ulcers.
The trick is to find out how to make use of the secretion while getting rid of those cancer causing toxins that comes with it. Therefore, researchers are working hard in developing a vaccine against the worm-induced cholangiocarcinoma.
Diabetes is a big problem as we live longer and get heavier. 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,” said Dr. Michael Smout of James Cook University.
There’s still much to learn about how the worm’s growth factor promotes healing. Once scientists figure that out, it may be possible to design a safe, synthetic version. Although those developments are still years away, it goes to show that when it comes to science, positive advancements can come from the unlikeliest organisms.