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Deadly cancer worm may help heal wounds

Deadly cancer worm drives wound healing
Photo: Deadly cancer worm drives wound healing
James Cook University scientists have discovered a secretion made by a 1cm-long cancer-causing worm could help treat chronic wounds.

It's known for riddling human livers with deadly cancer.

But the parasitic oriental river fluke has a tender side.

Research by James Cook University scientists has found the 1cm-long worm secretes a growth factor that accelerates wound healing and blood vessel growth.

Tests on mice and cell cultures showed the secreted protein heals many wounds.

And, it could be especially useful in the treatment of chronic wounds - like diabetic ulcers - as the population ages.

"Keeping (wounds) clean is largely the method (of treatment) at the moment," Dr Michael Smout told AAP.

"There is certainly a lot of room for expansion in the wound healing market."
But there's a catch.

The use of the healing protein would have to be short-term because exposure over many years leads to liver cancer.

"The worm is killing us with kindness," Dr Smout said.

The oriental liver fluke is caught by eating certain southeast Asian fish raw.

It infects millions and kills 26,000 people with cancer starting in the bile duct every year.

Dr Smout hopes his discovery could be used to develop a vaccine against the tiny killer.

"The protein is critical for the worm's survival," Dr Smout said.

"It seems likely a good candidate for something to stop the worm."

Dr Smout has been researching the liver fluke for 10 years and is able to grow it in a lab.

He says his team will continue researching the healing and vaccine benefits of the secretion.

But human trials are "many years" away.

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