Paul Brindley, Ph.D., professor of microbiology, immunology, and tropical medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, was the recipient of a $1.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study the behavior of a parasitic worm, rampant in Southeast Asia, known to cause infections that contribute to liver cancer.
The idea for his project, titled "Role of Live Fluke Granulin in Cholangiocarcinogenesis," was introduced to Brindley several years ago by a Thai postdoctoral student. In Thailand, the student had seen a disproportionately large amount of instances of a specific type of bile duct cancer, not common in the Western Hemisphere. It was discovered that this type of bile duct cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, is brought on by a parasitic worm that lives in uncooked fresh water fish, often present in traditional dishes in the region. The worm thrives in Southeast Asia due to unsanitary practices and conditions. The cancer caused by the worm usually results in death.
"With this grant we will research how a parasite could cause cancer," said Brindley. "What is it doing in someone's liver or bile ducts that's turning otherwise normal tissue into a tumor?"
The worm, which is large enough to be seen without a microscope, releases a product called granulin while navigating through the human body. In humans and other mammals, granulin is used to stimulate cells to grow and divide in order to heal a cut or a wound. When a worm secretes granulin, it seems to enhance a tumorigenic environment.