Sharks Offer Hope to Breast Cancer Patients

IN BRIEF:

  • Sharks have a high level of resilience against cancer due to unique antibodies.
  • Breast cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.
  • A new study is utilizing shark antibodies to slow and potentially stop the growth of breast cancer cells.

Characterized in film and media as ferocious and malicious creatures, sharks ignite our basic survival instincts: kill or be killed. However, antibodies in the blood of these ocean carnivores could lead to a new treatment for breast cancer, the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in the United States. By the time you have finished reading this article 5 more women will have been diagnosed with breast cancer, the second deadliest cancer in American women after lung cancer (“U.S. Breast Cancer Statistics,” 2015).

Anti-Cancer Antibody
Sharks have a high level of resilience against cancer (Handwerk, 2003). Biologists at the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom are investigating an antibody specifically found in sharks’ blood that may account for this resilience and help lead to treatments for human breast cancer (Shark antibodies).

Shark antibodies work differently from those of humans and because of their shape can insert themselves into places where larger, human antibodies cannot (Potts, 2013). One particular antibody can bind to molecules that cause breast cancer cells to grow and divide at unprecedented speeds, preventing the molecules that trigger the growth from binding there. The antibody holds a key to slowing down and possibly even killing breast cancer cells (Mercer 2008).

breast cancer ribbon

A pink ribbon, a symbol for breast cancer awareness. [“Breast Cancer Awareness” by maf04, (Unedited). License: CC BY-SA 2.0]

What’s on the Surface Does Matter
This shark-based antibody works by targeting two molecules, HER2 and HER3, found on the surface of cancer cells. When these molecules pair up on the surface of a cancer cell, they signal it to grow and divide. One in four women with breast cancer has HER2-positive breast cancer, where a very high level of HER2 is found on the surface of her cancer cells (Potts, 2013). HER2-positive breast cancer is very aggressive and has a higher rate of recurrence than HER2-negative breast cancers (Madell 2014).

Despite the fact that breast cancer death rates have been declining since about 1989, a woman dies of breast cancer in the United States every 15 minutes (“What Are the Key Statistics About Breast Cancer?,” 2015). Currently, there are drugs that effectively target HER2, but resistance to treatment is an increasing problem. Researchers are investigating whether the shark antibody could be used to block the HER2 and HER3 receptors, paving the way for a new group of drugs to treat this type of deadly breast cancer (Potts 2013).

Works Cited
This article was written by cYw38. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cYw Editorial Staff

cYw38

Author: cYw38

Hello everyone! Welcome to cYw! I am newbie at curiousYOUNGwriters. I am currently attending a STEM vocational school for engineering. At school, I participate in many clubs including Robotics Club, TSA, Yearbook Club, and Performing Arts Club. Furthermore, I have attended research events such as the Jersey Shore Science Fair. I love to play piano, play tennis, play volleyball, read books, and draw. One of my favorite hobbies is playing in a bell choir called Impulse Handbell Ensemble with my friends. Although I go to a math and science oriented school, I love the arts and enjoy expressing myself through different mediums. I've really enjoyed combining the arts with the sciences while writing this article. I am a first time writer but this opportunity has given me many new and definitely inspirational experiences. Check out all the awesome articles! I'm sure you'll learn something unexpected. Feel free to leave a comment down below. Thank you and enjoy! :)

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24 Comments

  1. Why have breast cancer rates declined since 1989?

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    • Since 1989, there have been many advancements in breast cancer research. It’s hard to tell which factors may have affected this change, but it could have been caused by screenings, more advanced treatments or even change in population. In terms of screenings, doctors have increased resources in order to try and catch signs of breast cancer earlier. In terms of treatment, new methods of chemotherapy and the introduction of new medicines such as Tamoxifen, an estrogen modulator, have emerged.

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  2. Why do shark antibodies work differently from those of humans?

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    • Shark antibodies work differently because of the structure of sharks’ immune systems. From my understanding, they are less sophisticated. They have less gene fragments and are therefore, less flexible. Human immune systems create antibodies that combat foreign agents by producing a specific antibody just for that kind of intruder whereas a shark only has immunoglobulin molecules that mark intruders for destruction regardless of the type.

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  3. What have scientists been doing to put this information to use? Have they tested on humans yet?

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    • There have been trials on other animals such as mice and it has been relatively successful with a 97% success rate, but I have yet to hear of any tests on humans.

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    • Unfortunately, I don’t think anything can completely cure cancer as of now. There is always that small percent chance that it won’t work just because of the fact that humans are all different and react to treatments different. By studying animals, we are hoping to find new alternatives and maybe even better treatments that could help these battling patients win. Using animals’ traits is a method that could potentially be a significant factor in turning our dream of a cancer-free world into a reality.

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  4. What have scientist done with this information? Have they done any tests on humans?

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    • There is always the possibility! Sharks are known to barely get cancer, regardless of the kind.

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    • There are other articles on this site that would definitely let you explore different animals. Go check them out!

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    • There are a few other animals that have traits that could possibly help in the fight although they are not specific to breast cancer. Check out the other articles on this site! If you go to Research Stories then Diseases and then Cancer you’ll found some intriguing articles on animals such as the naked mole rat and even dogs!

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  5. How will a shark antibody be deposited into a human with cancer? what process would it take?

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    • I think that it would be intravenous. It would be difficult for the antibodies to enter the bloodstream with just a pill or a spray.

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  6. This was a great article. Before this I had never known about sharks unique immune system and antibodies. The research is very interesting, to think that sharks antibodies could be used to to kill cancer cells.

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    • Thank you very much!

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  7. I feel this article was very informational. It nicely explains how sharks could be used to aid cancer treatments and cures. Despite having very little knowledge, I was quickly able to understand the main idea and with very little external research understand important biochemical details such as the HER2 and HER3 molecules. Also, it is very interesting that despite shark antibodies being differently shaped and having different characteristics, the antibodies can potentially be used in the human body. If the antibodies become usable for the cure of breast cancer, how will they be administered? Will these antibodies do any harm to the human body like chemotherapy does? Could all the differences between shark antibodies and human bodies make using shark antibodies risky and more harmful than helpful?

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    • I think that it would have to be an injection of sorts.I’m not sure of any institution that is committed to using shark antibodies for breast cancer treatment. As for side effects, there is always a risk. As for your last question, I don’t know if the difference would be the sole reason for an exacerbated side effect. If the shark antibody is incompatible with that of a human, I think that researchers would notice that and I don’t think that it would be administered to the general public.

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      • Also, thank you for your feedback!

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  8. What other animals could be used to further this leap of newfound information concerning cancer?

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    • There are quite a few animals such as dogs and even naked mole rats that have traits in their immune systems or bodily functions that could potentially be used for potential cancer prevention and treatment. However, I think that the idea of using animals for cancer research is a controversial topic and therefore is not brought completely to light. Animal testing and such questions the ethics of medicine and the possibility of using these unexplored resources.

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