Bacterial therapy attacks tumours from the inside-out

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new strategy of combining specially modified bacteria with microscopic capsules of chemotherapy could destroy tumours from the inside-out, according to new research from the Johns Hopkins University in the US.

The treatment draws on the unique characteristics of a genetically modified bacterium known as Clostridium novyi-NT (C.novy-NT), which enjoys oxygen-starved environments such as the interior of solid tumours.

In experiments on animal models, the bacteria broke down tumours from the inside-out, stopping only when they encountered oxygen-saturated tissues such as those found at the edge of tumours and in the rest of the body's tissue.

This left a rim of unharmed cancer cells, which could grow back.

To kill off the cells on the outside of the tumour, the team took advantage of the fact that the bacterium secretes a previously unknown molecule dubbed 'liposomase' - discovered by the same group, that can break down fatty membranes.

The researchers injected mice with both the bacteria and fatty capsules called liposomes, containing a chemotherapy drug.

As the bacteria ate their way out of the tumour, they encountered the drug-containing capsules and broke them down, releasing the drugs into the few remaining cancer cells.

The researchers now plan to investigate the properties of liposomase, as they think it could have number of uses in targeting liposomes to cancers.

The study is published in the Journal Science.