Researchers investigate radioactive bacteria to treat pancreatic cancer
A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesjournal evaluated the possibility of using radioactive bacteria to treat pancreatic cancer. The work was conducted at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and has garnered some media attention in recent weeks. It is important to note that the results presented by the authors are preliminary and based on observations in a mouse model of pancreatic cancer, and further laboratory research will be necessary to determine whether this approach can be evaluated in patients.
One of the challenges to treating pancreatic cancer is the tumor’s ability to evade and suppress an attack by the immune system. In this study, the authors took advantage of this characteristic of pancreatic tumors, and used a weakened version of the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes as a way to deliver toxic radiation to the tumor. Since the cancer cells block an immune response, the bacteria were allowed to permeate the tumor that had spread, or metastasized, inside the mouse, and the radiation emitted by the bacteria killed the cancer cells. Healthy cells could fight off the bacterial presence, and therefore, neither the bacteria nor the radiation seemed to impact normal cells and side effects in the mice were minimal.
Additional experimentation will need to be conducted in a laboratory setting to ensure that this treatment strategy is effective at attacking cancer cells, and safe to test in patients.