Cancer-Ridden Tapeworm Gave Man Tumors, CDC Determines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention received an urgent call in 2013 that would forever change the way scientists think about cancer. Doctors in Medellin, Colombia, reached out to the agency for help in understanding bizarre cells they had found in biopsied lung tumors of a 41-year-old HIV-positive man.

The cells, which were lumped together and melding into one another, appeared to be cancer-like in nature but none of them looked like human cancer cells.

“The patient was not doing well and the Colombian doctors asked, ‘can you please help us with your lab,'” Dr. Atis Muehlenbachs, a pathologist at the CDC in Atlanta, told The Huffington Post. “So we were speeding up testing but, unfortunately, it came down to the wire and we were too late.”

The patient died of kidney failure, but the mystery of the tumor cells that contributed to his death remained unsolved for two more years. The CDC announced on Wednesday that it had finally come to at least partly understand the cells, and had released a report about them in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Researchers discovered that cancer cells from tapeworms, or Hymenolepis nana, are able to take root in people with weakened immune systems and cause cancer-like tumors, the study says, and determined that this had happened in the Colombian patient.

“It was very challenging trying to figure the source of the cells,” Muehlenbachs said about the patient. “But we, by accident, detected tapeworm DNA.”

We had to convince ourselves that the cells were indeed tapeworm cells. We could not believe it.”

A microbiologist testing the patient’s biopsied tumor tissue discovered the DNA while running a battery of tests. The scientists concluded that the patient had a tapeworm that had cancer, and the worm’s —> Read More