If a current study reported in the journal Science Transnational Medicine is confirmed to be plausible, bacteria may save lives instead of disrupt them.
The idea of using bacteria to combat cancer was talked about over a century ago by bone surgeon William Coley. Many years ago, Coley saw that some of the many cancer patients with severe bacterial infections went into remission. William began using Strento Cocculs Pyogenes to attack the cancer, but found that it did not help, and was too toxic to the body.
Recently, according to a Time magazine article, researchers at Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center revisited the idea of using bacteria against cancer. Led by the Director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics, Bert Volgenstein, researchers looked at databases to find a bacteria that needs the least amount of oxygen and produces as few toxins as possible. A bacteria that fit Volgenstein's specifications arose. The bacteria was called 'Clostridium Novyi', and when it is relieved of its primary toxin producing gene, it works flawlessly.
Dr. Saurabh Saha, an acolyte of Volgestein, was excited about these findings and continued Volgenstein's work at BioMed Valley Discoveries, a biotech company. “We don't use the word 'cure' often in cancer,” said Dr. Saha. ”We need to remain humble, but when we started treating the dogs, we achieved cures. That gets you really excited.”
C. Novyi turned out to be the perfect weapon to fight cancer. Researchers found that a centered injection of the bacteria into a tumor will cause it to shrink or be destroyed. These spores are more accurate than a surgeon, microscopically destroying the most persistent cells and leaving tissue cells alone. C. Novyi grows best in places with little to no oxygen, and pinpoints the cells that typical cancer treatments cannot reach.
Nicholas Roberts of Johns Hopkins Center stated, ”When the spores reach the [low-oxygen] regions, they germinate and start growing, and producing substances and enzymes that are toxic to tumor cells and cause their destruction.” Roberts is a co-author of the paper and a post doctoral at Johns Hopkins. According to Dr. Saha, the bacteria stopped killing tumor cells when they got to the rim of the tumor. The tumors die because they cannot grow in the oxygen-rich environment of healthy tissue. This bacteria also has a chance to rejuvenate the immune system for up to two years.
C. Novyi was first tested in mice, then in dogs. A small group of dogs with tumors received an injection of the modified C. Novyi. Out of 16 dogs with soft-tissue sarcomas, six responded to the injection. Each dog received anywhere between one and four injections of one billion C. Novyi. Three of the six dogs lived at least two years without cancer. The other three saw their tumors shrink by almost 30 percent after 21 days.
Afterward, the team decided it was time for human testing. The first patient to attempt the therapy in the early test received similar results. A woman at the age of 53 had a rare case of cancer where she had cancer cells in some vital organs and bones. She agreed to an injection of C .Novyi at a much lower level of spores than the dogs. This was put directly into a tumor on her shoulder. As her immune system tried to fight the bacteria, she ended up with inflammation. However, after four days her tumor had shrunk. One month later, it was further degraded by the injection.
Dr. Saha's biotech group is injecting more and more cancer patients and hoping it becomes a go-to weapon in later stage cancer cases. She believes that using bacteria with a number of other immune-based approaches and possibly chemotherapy or radiation could refine the results of cancer procedures. This bacteria is unique compared to other cancer-fighting drugs because it will destroy any tumor with low-oxygen levels, even if the tumor is mutated.
If positive results keep coming in, this would be one bacterial infection cancer patients would welcome. Quoting Nicholas Roberts, “There is a lot of hope in moving forward with this.”