Media Release: Research reveals how tropical parasite hijacks cells


RESEARCH published today in the journal, Nature, is being described as ‘really exciting’ by one of the research funders, Scotland-based Worldwide Cancer Research.

Scientists have pinned down how a dangerous tropical parasite, which is transmitted by ticks, manages to turn healthy cells into cancer-like invasive cells*.

“Evidence that Theileria can infect white blood cells and make them behave like cancer cells was first published In Nature 30 years ago,” says lead researcher, Professor Jonathan Weitzman.

“Now we finally think we understand some important details of how this works.”

Says Helen Rippon, head of Research for Worldwide Cancer Research: “Microscopic Theileria parasites infect the blood of mammals, particularly cattle, causing serious illness.”

Continues Professor Weitzman: “We discovered that while the parasite is living inside the white blood cell it secretes a special protein, called Pin1. This protein is then able to ‘mess around’ with the cell and trigger mechanisms which control cell behaviour – so it starts acting like a cancer cell.

“We also found that an anti-parasite drug can target this protein and reverse the cancer-like state. This is an exciting example of how parasites hijack the host cell and how these parasite proteins can be targeted by drugs. It also directly links a parasite protein to cancer-causing cell processes, gives us a real insight into how infection with parasites and other organisms might lead to cancer in humans.”

Adds Dr Rippon: “Some parasite infections have long been linked to certain types of human cancer. Schistosomiasis, for example, which affects an estimated 240 million people globally, is a known risk factor for bladder cancer- accounting for up to three per cent of cases worldwide**.

“These findings are really exciting, as they help show how outside forces like parasites might be able to manipulate cell machinery to trigger cancer.

“By understanding more about how this is done, we can start to look for ways to stop it happening.”


Professor Jonathan Weitzman is available for interview. For all media enquiries, please contact Beverley Hart, head of communications at Worldwide Cancer Research, on 07803 151933.

Notes to Editors:

* Marsolier et al, 2015. Theileria parasites secrete a prolyl isomerase to maintain host leukocyte transformation. DOI:

** Global Cancer Facts and Figures (2nd edition)

The Nature article can be read, here.

This work was supported by Worldwide Cancer Research, the NIH, the French National Research Agency (ANR), and the ‘Who Am I?’ Laboratory of Excellence #ANR-11-LABX-0071 funded by the French Government through its ‘Investments for the Future’ programme operated by the ANR under grant #ANR-11-IDEX-0005-01.

About Worldwide Cancer Research

* Our mission is to see no life cut short by cancer.
* Over the last 35 years we have invested over £182 million directly into cancer research, funding over 1,600 research projects in 34 countries worldwide.
* We fund pioneering early-stage research into any type of cancer, from very rare cancer-linked genetic diseases which affect just a few children every year, to more common cancers which impact the lives of millions of people worldwide.
* We currently have 158 active research projects worldwide.

Find out more at and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

MEDIA RELEASE issued by Worldwide Cancer Research. You too can post your story ideas for journalists (aka Press or media releases), on Email for more information.

Check out for your very own media releases feed…

To catch up on all the media releases recently posted on to, you need only click the link icon that you see towards the bottom right of our two media release ‘gateway boxes’.

Link iconIt’s this icon, here. It’s your route straight into the rich archive.

Worldwide Cancer Research contact details…

Contact: Beverley Hart
Phone: 07803151933