Laurentian researchers work to see if mine tailings ponds can help treat cancer
Testing has been done on ovarian and breast cancer cells so far
A group of researchers in Sudbury say early results of their studies are showing promising results in a potential way to treat cancer.
Gerusa Senhorinho, a postdoctoral fellow at Laurentian University in Sudbury, says she and other researchers have been having a closer look at mine tailings water — from both active and abandoned mines — to see if it can be used to treat cancer.
The work has been ongoing since 2012. Senhorinho says they've been collecting water samples from property owned by Glencore. They're also working to get samples from some of the 5,000 abandoned mine sites across the province.
"We have to make sure we measure the water in terms of ph and metal concentrations," she said.
She says they've been collecting the water samples and separating the different types of green microalgae in them. From there, they grow the algae and eventually see if it contains chemicals.
"Then we start using those chemicals to test against bacteria, viruses, to see any oxidant activities and to determine anti-cancer activities of those compounds."
So far, they have done tests with ovarian and breast cancer cells, Senhorinho says. The results with ovarian cancer research is promising.
"Some of the specific unique extracts from these green microalgae were able to eliminate those cells," she said.
"Then we tested it against breast cancer cells and we noticed there was a very decreased viability in those cells as well."
Senhorinho says they also did tests of healthy cells and says those cells weren't affected. Typical cancer treatment that includes chemotherapy can kill the healthy cells as well as the cancerous cells, making the treatment difficult for the patient.
While it sounds promising, Senhorinho cautions it's still a long term project. She says further testing needs to be done.
"For sure we have to expand this research and test against more cancer cells and healthy cells," she said. "We have to extract this compound."
With files from Kate Rutherford