A recent study shows that a tumor can shrink after being given a bacterial injection. So far, the American study has involved rodents, dogs and now one human. The research has been shared in the Science Translation Medicine journal and there are hopes that this is a major step forward for cancer treatments.
It is nothing new to hear about bacteria being used for cancer treatments. In 2004, Nottingham University’s Professor Nigel Minton started using Clostridium and other similar bacteria for cancer treatment research. Minton formed a research group with others called Clostridia Research Group (CRG). The professor explained in 2011 that the bacterium works by killing the tumor cells due to the poor levels of oxygen, but healthy tissue is left untouched.
Senior author in this new study, Shibin Zhou, has also been using bacterial for cancer treatments over the last 10 years. The Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center employee joined forces with colleagues at the oncology unit after seeing how bacterial infections led to some cancer patients go into remission.
This led to the decision focus the study on the soft tissue, where a tumor is usually more advanced. They were interested considering that the healthy tissue would not be affected, while the oxygen-deprived tissue was the perfect breeding ground for the bacteria to grow. Zhou also noted just how beneficial treating with bacteria would be. It is possible to modify it so that they become less toxic.
That is how the bacteria was used in the study. Clostridium novyi, the bacteria used, is extremely damaging naturally. The toxin-producing genes were removed so that it because safe for use. Once the bacterial injection was given, the recent study showed that a tumor could shrink.
It did not take long to see the results either. In the 16 dogs that were treated, all made recoveries. There was some inflammation to the area, along with fever and pain, but within days the dogs made full recoveries.
In the case of the individual human, a woman of 53-years-old, researchers saw the injection working. The woman was suffering from myosarcom, which is a connective tissue cancer. Previous treatments had not worked, so she agreed to the study. Within 24 hours, she suffered from a fever and needed pain medication for around three weeks. However, within days the tumor stopped growing.
Unfortunately, she suffered a fracture to her arm six weeks after the injection. There are no reports as to whether that was due to the injection, her cancer or something else. The fracture was fixed by doctors.
The idea of using bacteria is certainly unconventional. It takes some of the power away from pharmaceutical companies; at least for now. Researchers will continue with the study but will proceed with caution. There are still many avenues to look into and steps to take before it can become a mainstream option for cancer treatment.
The good news is that the field of cancer research is growing. Treatments are being found and possibilities to help those who do not respond to conventional treatments are being considered. According to the recent study results, a tumor could shrink just from a bacterial injection.
By Alexandria Ingham