Genetically modified bacteria could be the secret weapon in the war against cancer
Doctors have hailed a hugely significant study that found salmonella can wipe out tumours, giving hope to millions of sufferers.
The food poisoning bug was genetically modified to make it harmless, then injected into mice with colon cancer and the disease vanished in more than half of them after just 12 days.
It had a similar effect when injected into human tissue and could eventually be used to treat a wide range of tumours.
Experts said the immunotherapy treatment would be a welcome replacement for chemotherapy as it has no side-effects.
The bacteria infiltrate a tumour and trigger the body’s immune system into fighting it and starving it of nutrients.
The study was carried out at Chonnam National University in South Korea.
A paper said: “The engineered bacteria induced an effective anti-tumour immune response, successfully treating tumours in several different mouse models with no evidence of toxicity.
“The tumour was no longer detectable in 11 of 20 mice at the end point.”
Previous research has hinted that bacteria such as salmonella could be effective in the fight against cancer. But this is the first to prove it can kill the disease.
Professor of Microbiology Joon Haeng Rhee said: “We believe this was a ground-breaking trial.
“We have a tangible plan to start preclinical and clinical trials.”
The Institute of Cancer Research in London praised the study. Biological therapies expert Professor Kevin Harrington said: “This is a fascinating new approach to using bacteria.
"Instead of asking bacteria to kill cancer cells directly, researchers have genetically engineered salmonella so it expresses a gene that triggers the immune system to mount an attack on the tumour.
“The results show that this approach is effective against a range of tumour types with little or no toxicity in mice.”
The findings were revealed in Science Translational Medicine a journal published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which is hosting the world’s biggest science conference in Boston.
Bacterial cancer therapy dates back to the 19th century when surgeons noticed tumours would shrink in infected patients.
But it was largely axed when surgical and chemical therapies emerged in the 20th century.
Since then, some success in bacterial treatment has been reported, with scientists using germs to deliver anti-cancer medicines to the body.
But these require multiple injections and relapses are common.
Bacteria acts like Lego on immune cells, says Dr Catherine Pickworth from Cancer Research UK
“This study, carried out in mice, shows that bacteria can be used to trigger the immune system to attack cancer cells.
In this study the researchers injected the bacteria into the mice where it was delivered to the tumour through the blood, causing an immune reaction.
The bacteria fit like Lego pieces onto the surface of immune cells.
This starts a chain reaction inside the immune cells, causing them to release molecules that can kill cancer.
The next steps will be to see if this method is safe and whether it could be used to help patients.
We’re funding similar research using viruses to help the immune system recognise cancer cells as a threat so it can destroy them, opening potential new ways to treat the disease”.
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