Scientists develop probiotic to target tumours

Scientists at University College Cork have developed an innovative way to target cancer treatment at tumours — by placing the drug in bacteria which attaches to the tumours.

Bacteria have a natural ability to grow inside tumours. When non-disease causing bacteria are injected intravenously, they attach to the tumours, but do not implant anywhere else in the body.

By putting the drugs into the bacteria, the drugs are then poised to go right to the centre of the cancerous growth.

But Mark Tangney’s team at UCC have gone a step further — they have found a way to make the bacteria produce luminescent light.

This means that, with the help of CT scans, the bacteria can help provide vital information about where exactly in the tumour, the drug therapy has gone.

Dr Tangney and his team at the Cork Cancer Research Centre spent years developing the specially engineered probiotic bacteria — similar to those found in yoghurts — which can carry drugs and therapeutic agents. Just recently, they found a method of making that bacteria produce luminescent light.

The brightly lit bacteria will also allow the treatment team to monitor the growth of the bacteria on the tumour.

The technology also provides a method of monitoring bacteria in infectious disease settings.

The study was performed by Dr Michelle Cronin, Dr Sara Collins, and others from the CCRC, in collaboration with US industrial partner Perkin Elmer, a research team at the University of California, Los Angeles, and researchers at UCC’s Department of Microbiology.

“This is a perfect example of what can be achieved through international collaborations, particularly with industry,” said Dr Tangney.

“We have forged close professional links with industry partners possessing facilities to develop the necessary technology and staff with expertise in different areas to ours.

“We have found multi- disciplinary approaches to research invaluable.”

It is expected that the bacteria will be used in human trials in the next few years.

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