One of the zoonotic diseases that cats expose us to is toxoplasmosis. The parasite toxoplasma gondii, which lives in cats' intestines and is shed in their feces, is usually fairly harmless to people. However, it can be dangerous for people with compromised immune systems, and for pregnant women. However, new research indicates that T. gondii may help fight cancer, if reprogrammed to do so.
An article on IFL Science says that David Bzik, of Dartmouth University, conducted the research that found T. gondii can team up with our immune systems, help stimulate creation of t-cells and killer cells that can attack cancer cells, and destroy them. The immune response for T. gondii is very, very similar to the immune response to cancer, or what would be the immune response to cancer if cancer didn't interrupt that response. That gave the researchers the idea to try and restore the immune response by using a modified parasite.
Part of the reprogramming also includes taking the parasite's ability to self-replicate away. So it doesn't grow out of control at the same time it's working to control, and eliminate, cancer cells in someone's body. In other words, this helps to make T. gondii safer for this type of use.
They have already seen a high level of success in laboratory testing, according to an article on Science Daily. The cancers that they've tested the therapy on include very aggressive, and often fatal, types of ovarian cancers and melanomas. It stimulates "amazingly effective immunotherapy" that's far better than anything seen previously.
The Science Daily Article also says that the T. gondii therapy could work as personally tailored treatments as well. One of the main problems with current treatments is that they're too general. Conventional radiation and chemotherapy can kill cancer cells effectively, but also kill healthy cells and sometimes come with the hope that the cancer will die before the patient does.
Furthermore, this new therapy could also act as a vaccine against future occurrences of that particular cancer. So relapse rates could potentially plummet, also. The researchers do acknowledge that a lot more study is needed for this, but they are optimistic about the possibilities.
So our furry feline friends may provide medical science with something very revolutionary when it comes to cancer treatments, all because of a parasite they can shed in the litter box, and outside.