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News

Harnessing microbes to kill cancer

Society For General Microbiology : 08 April, 2003  (Company News)
An ingenious new way to attack cancer tumours is being developed by medical researchers from Nottingham as part of an EU consortium, the Society for General Microbiology's Spring Meeting in Edinburgh heard.
An ingenious new way to attack cancer tumours is being developed by medical researchers from Nottingham as part of an EU consortium, the Society for General Microbiology's Spring Meeting in Edinburgh heard.

The problem with powerful anti-cancer drugs is that they kill healthy cells too, and concentrations needed to wipe out tumours could also kill the patient. Now medical scientists have developed a new way of attacking cancer using a tiny organism called Clostridia which likes being inside tumours.

Clostridia bacteria will only grow in places where there is no oxygen. Although most healthy tissues in our bodies need oxygen supplied through the bloodstream to keep them alive, solid cancer tumours do not have oxygen available at their centre.

'Working with colleagues at the University of Stanford, we used this strange preference and showed that if Clostridia are injected into a cancer patient they later appear within the tumours, but nowhere else in the patient's body,' says Professor Nigel Minton, of Nottingham University. 'By engineering Clostridia to produce anti-cancer drugs, we were able to deliver high drug doses to the surrounding cancer cells, killing them, but leaving the rest of the body unharmed.'

Prototype models of this drug delivery system have already been shown to work remarkably effectively. Work programmes are now underway in the UK, Europe and USA to find the best combination of Clostridia bacteria type, drug production pathway, and anti-cancer agent to use in clinical trials.

'This system may provide a cure for some currently untreatable cancers', says Professor Minton. 'It is notoriously difficult to deliver effective drug doses to the centre of solid tumours without harming the patient's healthy tissues.'
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