Bacteria may help treat cancer

Cancer cells spreading and growing through the body from Shutterstock
Cancer cells spreading and growing through the body from Shutterstock

Bacteria may offer a new way to treat cancer, a small, preliminary study suggests.

Researchers injected a weakened strain of Clostridium novyi-NT bacteria spores into tumours in six patients. The bacteria grew in the tumours and killed cancer cells, the investigators reported.

C. novyi-NT, which lives in soil, is a close relative of the bacteria that causes botulism. Before injecting C. novyi-NT into the patients, the researchers weakened it by removing its dangerous toxin.

Five of the six patients are still alive, while one died from unrelated causes several months after receiving the bacteria injection, according to the study to be presented at the annual Symposium on Clinical Interventional Oncology in Hollywood, Florida.

Read: Treating breast cancer

Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More on tumours

"When tumours reach a certain size, parts of them do not receive oxygen, which makes them resistant to conventional therapies such as radiation and chemotherapy," study author Dr. Ravi Murthy, a professor of interventional radiology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, said in a symposium news release.

"C. novyi-NT thrives under these conditions, hones in on the low-oxygen areas and destroys tumours from the inside while sparing normal tissue," Murthy explained.

C. novyi-NT also triggers an immune response to cancer.

Read: Treating prostate cancer

"Essentially, C. novyi-NT causes a potent cancer-killing infection in the tumour," study principal investigator Dr. Filip Janku, an associate professor in the department of investigation therapeutics at M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre, said in the news release.

The new findings are very preliminary and much additional research into the potential therapy is needed.

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Image: Cancer cells spreading and growing through the body from Shutterstock

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