Bacteria could treat cancer

A form of bacteria that causes infections could provide a new treatment option for cancer.

As Gizmodo reports, according to a study from the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, once Clostridium novyi has been modified to remove a gene that can be toxic, it can be injected into a tumour. There, it makes enzymes that allow it to infiltrate the membranes of cancer cells and then absorb the malignant tissue.

After using this method to successfully shrink (and in some cases eradicate) tumours in dogs with cancer, scientists injected thousands of spores of Clostridium novyi into the shoulder tumour of a woman with retroperitoneal leiomyosarcoma, a rare type of muscle cancer. And it shrunk her tumour, too.

In the past, scientists have experimented with other bacteria in cancer research, including Streptococcus pyogenes, which causes strep throat but can also be fatal. However, until recently the results were inconsistent at best and potentially dangerous at worst.

But earlier this month, a team from Duke University revealed that they’d successfully triggered one of the body’s own bacterial proteins, Cas9, to kill cervical cancer cells, suggesting that bacteria could be the basis of new and increasingly effective cancer treatments.

The Johns Hopkins researchers now plan to conduct large-scale human trials to see if their results can be replicated. (Fingers crossed.)

Image credit: David L. Huso and Baktiar Karim of the Johns Hopkins Department of Pathology.

Diane Shipley

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