New Weapons Against Cancer: Millions of Bacteria Programmed to Kill

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NYTimes.com – Science

Genetically modified microbes release “nanobodies” that alert the immune system to cancer in mice, scientists report.

A scanning electron micrograph of immune cells, blue, attacking cancer cells. Tumors may elude the immune system, but researchers are harnessing reprogrammed bacteria to destroy cancer cells in mice.
CreditCreditSteve Gschmeissner/Science Source

Scientists have used genetically reprogrammed bacteria to destroy tumors in mice. The innovative method one day may lead to cancer therapies that treat the disease more precisely, without the side effects of conventional drugs.

The researchers already are scrambling to develop a commercial treatment, but success in mice does not guarantee that this strategy will work in people. Still, the new study, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature Medicine, is a harbinger of things to come, said Dr. Michael Dougan, an immunologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

“At some point in the future, we will use programmable bacteria for treatment,” said Dr. Dougan, whose research laid some groundwork for the new study. “I think there’s just too much potential.”

Our immune cells can sometimes recognize and destroy cancer cells without assistance. But tumors may hide from the immune system by taking advantage of a gene called CD47.

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