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Germ - Chemo Combo Fights Cancer

Bacteria that can cause deadly infections in humans and animals have shown promise in treating cancer by “eating” tumors from the inside out. Now, two new studies at the// Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have demonstrated that, combined with specially-packaged anti-cancer drugs, the bacterial therapy’s prospects for cancer eradication have dramatically improved.

In mouse experiments reported in the November 24 issue of Science, the Hopkins researchers demonstrated that genetically-modified bacteria called Clostridium novyi-NT (C.novy-NT) have a special taste for oxygen-starved environments much like those found in the core of cancer cell clusters. The modified bacteria themselves are relatively harmless, but their unmodified counterparts produce poisons that have killed some humans and cattle when introduced into the bloodstream.

“It is not difficult to kill cancer cells. The challenge is killing them while sparing normal cells,” says Bert Vogelstein, M.D., professor and co-director of the Ludwig Center and Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

The bacteria’s cancer-killing effects were first discovered five years ago by the Hopkins team who noticed the germ’s ability to grow and spread in the oxygen-poor core of mouse tumors and the blackened scars signaling that most of the cancer cells had been destroyed. Normal surrounding cells were largely unaffected. But the bacteria failed to kill cancer cells at the still oxygen-rich edge of the tumors.

In response, the Hopkins team added specially-packaged chemotherapy to the bacterial attack speculating that certain properties of the bacteria would improve the drug’s effectiveness, according to Shibin Zhou, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

The combo approach temporarily wiped out both large and small tumors in almost 100 mice and permanently cured more than two-thirds
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