Biomedicine

Anaerobic Bullets

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Science  22 Oct 2004:
Vol. 306, Issue 5696, pp. 577
DOI: 10.1126/science.306.5696.577d

The spore-forming Clostridium species of bacteria are notorious for the frightening toxins they can generate, including botulinum and tetanus toxoid. They also prefer to live where there is little oxygen. Starting with early observations by William Coley in the 19th century of cancer remission in some patients surviving postoperative infection, Agrawal et al.harnessed these two characteristics of Clostridium novyi-NT, for experimental cancer therapy. They injected mice bearing large established tumors with spores of an attenuated strain of the bacterium and showed that the spores exclusively germinated within the hypoxic cores of the tumors and destroyed all but the peripheral oxygenated cells. These cells subsequently continued to expand, but about 30% of the mice were cured of the cancer in the absence of radio- or chemotherapy. This happened because a potent immune response to the cancer cells was generated, such that all the cured mice subsequently rejected transplanted tumor cells of the same type and kept the bacteria under control. Similar success was observed in rabbits and rats, but it is unknown whether humans would generate similarly effective immune responses. — CA

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 101, 15172 (2004).

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