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Research among cancer patient volunteers using parasites responsible for malaria is proceeding apace, despite conjecture online of the suspension of the project amid ethical and safety concerns.
The project is proceeding normally and the official website will carry any related developments, an expert with the team led by Chen Xiaoping, a researcher at the Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, was quoted by news website Jiemian as saying on Monday.
Among the volunteers registered with Guangzhou Fuda Cancer Hospital affiliated with Jinan University, several have been selected by the institute and the project is ongoing, said a staff member of the hospital"s customer service.
CAS Lamvac Biotech, which was founded by Shenzhen-listed Bluedon Information Security Technologies Co in 2013 and is participating in the research, said on its website on Thursday that the volunteer quota for the research in this round had been met.
Clinical research of malaria parasite immunotherapy remains at an early stage and still requires continuous experimentation, the company said.
Chen is one of the founders of CAS Lamvac Biotech and serves as its CEO.
The issue has garnered strong public attention after Chen made a speech saying that the malaria parasite has become a new force in fighting cancers at a forum late last year.
In the research, malaria parasites stimulated the immune system of the cancer patient, which in turn fought off malignant cells. Malaria parasites are injected into the bodies of patients in a precisely controlled manner to minimize risk, and the anti-malarial drug artemisinin is used to control the level of parasites.
More than 30 patients have been involved in trials. Of the 10 cases that were under observation in the past year, five have shown progress against cancers, two of which may have been cured, Chen said.
In the research among tens of thousands of guinea pigs with cancer over more than a decade, malaria parasites markedly helped extend the lives of the laboratory animals, he said.
The treatment remains in an exploratory stage and there are many unknown factors, but the phenomenon is positive, said Zhong Nanshan, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a leading member of the research team, who added that individual cases are not enough to reach a conclusion.
The team will try to extract matter from malaria parasites for further research, Zhong said.
However the research has sparked immense skepticism.
Three related research projects registered with the China Clinical Trial Registry are described as observatory research.
If patients receive irregular treatment such as injection of malaria parasites, the research should not be listed as observatory. Intervention therapy in the name of observatory research runs contrary to existing rules and regulations, said Shi Jinhai, secretary-general of China Protein Drug Quality Alliance, as quoted by Science and Technology Daily.
Also, the pathogens used need further study and improvement before they are applied in clinical experiments to ensure patients" safety, he said.