When scientists injected spores of a weakened form of the bacterium Clostridium novyi directly into the soft-tissue tumors of dogs and that of a single human subject, the results were not only abscesses, fever and pain at the site — all inflammatory responses that showed the immune system had been drawn to the area. In a matter of hours, the bacterial spores quickly found their way into these tumors’ necrotic cores and began replicating madly, in several cases killing the malignant tissue.
In three of 16 dogs treated with the C. novyi, tumors disappeared altogether and the animals were cured. In three other dogs, direct injection of the bacterium shrank the tumors by at least 30%. In a 53-year-old woman whose myosarcoma — a cancer of the connective tissue — had not responded to conventional treatment, a direct injection of the bacterial spores into one of one metastatic tumors resulted in “extensive tumor destruction.”
Within a day of receiving an injection directly into the tumor wrapped around her shoulder and upper arm, the woman developed a low-grade fever and for about three weeks required intravenous pain medications. But her tumor stopped growing and the bacteria continued to eat away at necrotic tissue in and around the lesion. Roughly six weeks after the injection, the woman suffered a fracture in her necrotic upper arm, which physicians repaired.
The experimental therapy, and the research on mice leading up to it, were reported this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
“This is a cancer therapeutic that is truly different,” said one of the study’s authors, Saurabh Saha of BioMed Valley Discoveries Inc., a research-and-development organization in Kansas City, Mo., that conducts biomedical research on potential therapies that are too early, unconventional or unprofitable to draw interest from pharmaceutical companies. “We have to approach it with caution. But the field of cancer immunotherapy is beginning to prove itself, and if it progresses well, this can be another weapon in the cancer armamentarium.”
As a next step, researchers at eight sites across the United States have launched an early clinical trial of the bacteriologic cancer therapy. Researchers plan first to test the safety of the therapy on volunteers with solid malignant tumors of all kinds who have been treated with at least one systemic cancer medication and who have no options for curative therapy. (continued…)
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