PITTSBURGH (CBS) — Bacteria typically blamed for serious food poisoning is now being used to fight cancer.
Scientists have found a way to manipulate the powerful germ, and they say it’s showing promise.
Dr. Donald Schaffner, a professor of food microbiology at Rutgers University, has studied the dangerous germ for more than a decade.
“It’s responsible for many, many cases of food-borne disease every year,” he said.
But now, instead of making people sick, it’s thought that salmonella can actually help to heal.
“Breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer,” says Dr. Robert Kazmierczak, of the Cancer Research Center.
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Scientists at Cancer Research Center in Missouri have developed a new strain of salmonella.
“This is not the strain you would see off the street,” Dr. Kazmierczak says.
It’s a strain that won’t cause typical food poisoning symptoms.
Once injected into the blood stream, the salmonella has been engineered to migrate directly to cancer cells and tumors.
“We have a large group of unique, non-toxic salmonella that could target, spread throughout and disrupt tumors while not harming normal cells,” Dr. Kazmierczak said.
The bacteria are actually attracted to the cancerous environment because it’s low in oxygen, while high in a compound called purine that a different detoxified salmonella strain needs.
“We’ve been able to hone what nature started into this treatment,” Alison Dino said.
It’s thought salmonella kills cancer cells by releasing some of its own toxins. Other labs have turned the bacterium into a kind of Trojan horse, carrying chemotherapy into a tumor.
Unlike some traditional cancer treatments this seems to have few side effects.
“You could go about your business and still get better,” Dino said.
Virtually every woman in Maria Siniscalchi’s family, including her sister Cindy Kraus, have battled breast cancer.
“You hear you have cancer and you feel your world is collapsing,” Kraus said.
They says the potential of this new treatment not only offers them hope, but hope to their family’s future generations.
“Anything that comes up that they think is better, to me, it’s worth looking into it,” Siniscalchi said.
Duke University researchers have been similarly successful in treating aggressive forms of brain cancer with salmonella in animals, human clinical trials are likely still years away.