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Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

Posted August 27, 2008 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

You've known for years that you should eat bright, leafy vegetables to ward off cancer and other ailments. But did you know that brightly-colored insects can also lead you to plants that ward off illness?

A report published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment shows how brightly-colored butterfly larvae and beetles like to eat plants that contain chemical compounds that help fight cancer cells and tropical parasitic diseases. Seeking out these wiggly creatures could help speed up the discovery and development of new drugs. By following the bugs, scientists may be able to find the cure.

Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Gamboa, Panama made this amazing find by looking at plants we already know contain anti-cancer compounds. The bugs on the plants were brightly colored – a warning for predators to stay away from their poisonous toxins. Apparently, those toxins can come from the insects' host plants.

Bugs are commonly found on plants with compounds that can help fight breast cancer and malaria. It's suggested that "a quick screen for insects with warning coloration on tropical plants may increase the efficiency of the search for compounds active against cancer and tropical parasitic disease by four-fold".

Of course, most of these medicinal plants are in tropical climates, and harvesting them for human use is controversial. And just because a plant has a brightly-colored bug on it isn't a guarantee that it's a lifesaver. Extensive testing will still have to be performed. But if researchers and scientists can spend less time looking - and can more accurately find plants that lead to cures - it may lead to more lives saved!

As part of the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups Project (ICBG), the STRI in Panama is working to find new drugs in the tropical forest. The group hopes to discover compounds from plants, algae, and marine invertebrates to fight cancer and tropical diseases. They're also trying to conserve biodiversity by applying what they've learned. So far, the team has made significant progress in finding compounds active against leishmaniasis (black fever) and malaria.

Resources:

http://www.biology-blog.com/blogs/permalinks/7-2008/insect-warning-colors-aid-cancer-drug-discovery.html

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-07/stri-iwc070808.php

http://www.stri.org/english/research/facilities/terrestrial/gamboa/research_projects.php

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Guru
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#1

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/27/2008 3:38 PM

If we solve all illnesses - where is our population control? We can't keep growing in population and expect to have enough resources to take care of everyone. As much as I don't like cancer (my grandmother died from cancer when I was 3), I believe that some illnesses such as these are important to keeping our population from getting outrageously vast. Disease is the only natural predator of humans, cut that out and we will be reproducing like rabbits and causing more devastating problems for the Earth.

People will destroy the tropical forests to get a hand on these 'miracle' plants. We will destroy a natural habitat for multiples of plants and animals (there goes more resources and the diversity that Earth thrives on).

Don't get me wrong, cancer is a horrible disease, but: Without death, we wouldn't truly know how precious life is.

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#4
In reply to #1

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 7:18 AM

Cancer brings such suffering, pain, and anguish not only to the person struggling day to day for months (or years) of treatments, but also the families who must see that pain and help the person cope. And of course, the loss.

I agree, we must do something about human population on Earth. I feel a good step in that direction is limiting your family's size - I don't see the point in having four, five, seven children. One or two would suffice. However, people are unwilling to take individual responsibility for their planet.

And I have a feeling we'll never come close to solving all illnesses. We "discover" new ones all the time but can't keep up with our old ones! I have an immune disorder for which a new medication has not been developed in nearly fifty years. There are no disease-specific treatment options available to me and I must rely on medications for other ailments, where the side effects often outweigh the benefits. Is this fair? Probably not. Perhaps I have been chosen for your natural selection. However, I choose to keep plugging along - they're not getting me yet!

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#9
In reply to #4

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 9:47 AM

I am not saying that cancer does not bring all of that - other diseases do too. When I posted that comment, I didn't mean to come off as a jerk, but without diseases we have no population control. I agree with you that limiting family size needs to be done at some point, but I don't see that happening in a 'free' nation. It isn't the intelligent and well-educated people who are having mass amounts of kids (for the most part), it is the poor and uneducated (for the most part) that are having so many kids. You used to never see a mother with multiple fathers for their kids.

I believe that your choice to keep plugging along is a good reason to indicate why you are still here. Having a positive mentality may be the only thing that you can do at those times and possibly the most beneficial. Kudos to not giving up. *Thumbs Up*

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#13
In reply to #9

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 11:02 AM

Wellll.... back in the day one reason why people had lots of kids was to help out on a farm - if a mother was a widow, she'd remarry and have a bunch more kids with her second husband. BUT, I know what you're getting at with today's numbers of unwed mothers with several children by separate fathers. There are a lot of "oops" children or children around because someone wanted a baby - and then can't afford it, leaving it to be funded by society.

This certainly isn't "fair" and becomes a tricky debate as you don't want to keep giving handouts to undeserving repeat offenders, but it would be unethical to allow children to suffer because they didn't do anything wrong. Yet if we were talking wild animals - those kids wouldn't survive (with the exception of a few species), if mama didn't bring them back anything to eat - they'd probably be eaten by something else.

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#2

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/27/2008 4:53 PM

This is an amazing discovery!

Like too many other people, I have seen members of my family suffer and then die from cancer. It's an ugly, unfair disease that nobody should have to go through. It brings great hope to hear that there may be a linkage from these plants to a potential cure - especially to hear that scientists are also looking to other plants like algae for a similar outcome.

I never thought I'd be happy to hear news about bugs.

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#5
In reply to #2

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 7:20 AM

Anything that means the same quality cure faster is a good thing in my book. I'm often told that "life's not fair" but it seems that cancer is even worse than that.

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Anonymous Poster
#3

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/27/2008 11:46 PM

This is a great discovery!

However, as with all these new discoveries, people like Jaxy get hold of it and the new discovery never sees the light of day.

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#10
In reply to #3

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 9:51 AM

People like me really have no control over the situation. If there are scientists that want to use it, they have every right to. I am just thinking of the flip side of the situation. I am thinking of the negative aspects of it even though it looks like an amazing discovery - there are silver linings...

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#6

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 7:25 AM

This topic really bugs me. I tend (apparently like Jaxy) to be a Malthusian. All creatures that live eventually die. If they did not, there would eventually be no room for their progeny. But at the same time, I find it interesting that we can more easily find naturally curative compounds, many of which can be synthesized so we don't have to destroy the rain forest. Every cloud has a silver lining, but every silver lining has a cloud in the middle of it.

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#7
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Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 7:32 AM

This is a good point - I just don't think that cancer is a nice way to die. My grandma just passed away at age 84 (young, in my family) from congestive heart failure on Saturday. That wasn't a nice way either - but after a few years of going through the motions, it only took about 15 minutes in the end. My feeling on that ailment is when you get old, your heart wears out - it's to be expected. The rheumatoid arthritis she'd had since her 30s is another story.

If there are safe, effective cancer treatments or cures we can make at home - fine. I just feel that people shouldn't have to die from a death sentence (and I'm not talking about one handed out from a judge here).

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#11
In reply to #7

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 10:50 AM

My condolences on your loss. I intended no offense.

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#12
In reply to #11

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 10:56 AM

Thank you! And none taken.

I just wanted to point out that my feeling on the topic is that I understand humans and animals (including my family members and beloved pets) must pass on at some point - but I would prefer we could all do it without the lingering, painful effects of a terminal illness. If safe medications can make that possible, I'm for it!

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#14
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Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 11:04 AM

Concur!

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#15
In reply to #6

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 11:06 AM

Malthus has been proven wrong so many times that it's rather amazing that anybody still refers to him. If people stop dying of cancer then there will be a couple of things that will happen. In the rich world people will have fewer children. Japan and Europe are already at a birth rate lower than the rate necessary to maintain population. In less developed countries something else will start killing people - assuming they can afford the cancer cure. So thing have a way of balancing out. Something Malthus never counted on. In other words, extrapolations are dangerous and tend to fool people.

Of course Malthus may yet be proven right in two areas: fish populations and global warming. Stay tuned.

At the same time my hatred of mosquitoes makes me wonder; if the little buggers can carry malaria and not be affected by it do they have some compound in their miserable little bodies that we could use to fight malaria? Now that would be interesting.

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#16
In reply to #15

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 11:15 AM

Often wondered that myself - some vectors are affected by the disease they carry, while some are not. Would it not be ironic that we've spent so much time and money trying to eradicate skeeters when they could offer the cure?!?

And hey, I'll take it as a compliment that you think I'm amazing...

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#17
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Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 5:06 PM

In regards to malaria, which claims more children's lives than any other diseases, the disease was all but eradicated until DDT was banned. Kind of makes me think that those that make the laws about pollutants, GW and so many other issues should be required to understand the WHOLE issue before the decision to kill numerous infants.

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#18
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Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 5:21 PM

Actually, DDT wasn't banned, even here, but replaced with better insecticides. It is still used in a lot of the "third world" countries. Problem is, the manufacture rate slowed down, the price went up, and so many places don't use a LOT of it. Much of the problem, as I understand it, was/is in the political structure of several countries where malaria is a problem, was/is such that the "man in charge" was/is dictatorial, regarded the national treasury as a personal bank account, and did/does not care a good sharp rap about what happens to the general population. Or so I understood the situation, I could be wrong...

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#8

Re: Will Tropical Insects Help Cure Cancer?

08/28/2008 8:01 AM

It's an amazing discovery but I still hate mosquitoes.

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Anonymous Poster
#19

Will They Be Cured Or NOT??

12/03/2008 5:55 PM

Well i think its good they think this will help cure cancer, but just think about this. There are so many crooked people in this world that if they do find a cure, they probably wont announce it. If they find a cure, all the major hospitals like St. Jude will lose a ton of money and some people just cant handle that. Therefor they'd rather keep money in their pockets instead of possibly saving the world..??

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#20
In reply to #19

Re: Will They Be Cured Or NOT??

12/04/2008 9:10 AM

I read a book that stated a similar theory. Speaking from experience, I have a medical condition for which no new medication has been introduced in over 50 years. While withholding cures and help for people with cancer and other illnesses is a scary thought, it does seem like it could be happening. Hopefully if such stories can come to the forefront of the media and more people hear about them, then they will get through.

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