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"Because this treatment shows promise in such an aggressive cancer like pancreatic cancer, we believe it could be used on other types of cancer cells and our lab is in the process of testing this treatment in other types of cancer," says Senthil Kumar. (Credit: iStockphoto)

bacteria

Bacterial ‘chatter’ tells cancer cells to die

Scientists can manipulate a molecule used as a communication system by bacteria to prevent cancer from spreading. This communication system can tell cells how to act—or even to die—on command.

While always dangerous, cancer becomes life-threatening when cancer cells begin to spread to different areas throughout the body.

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“During an infection, bacteria release molecules which allow them to ‘talk’ to each other,” says lead author Senthil Kumar, an assistant research professor and assistant director of the Comparative Oncology and Epigenetics Laboratory at University of Missouri.

“Depending on the type of molecule released, the signal will tell other bacteria to multiply, escape the immune system, or even stop spreading.

“We found that if we introduce the ‘stop spreading’ bacteria molecule to cancer cells, those cells will not only stop spreading, they will begin to die as well.”

Hard-to-kill cancer cells

In the study published in PLOS ONE, Kumar and coauthor Jeffrey Bryan, associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, treated human pancreatic cancer cells grown in culture with bacterial communication molecules, known as ODDHSL. After the treatment, the pancreatic cancer cells stopped multiplying, failed to migrate, and began to die.

“We used pancreatic cancer cells because those are the most robust, aggressive, and hard-to-kill cancer cells that can occur in the human body,” Kumar says.”To show that this molecule can not only stop the cancer cells from spreading, but actually cause them to die, is very exciting.

“Because this treatment shows promise in such an aggressive cancer like pancreatic cancer, we believe it could be used on other types of cancer cells and our lab is in the process of testing this treatment in other types of cancer.”

The next step is to find a more efficient way to introduce the molecules to the cancer cells before animal and human testing can take place, Kumar says.

“Our biggest challenge right now is to find a way to introduce these molecules in an effective way. At this time, we only are able to treat cancer cells with this molecule in a laboratory setting. We are now working on a better method which will allow us to treat animals with cancer to see if this therapy is truly effective.

“The early-stage results of this research are promising. If additional studies, including animal studies, are successful then the next step would be translating this application into clinics.”

Source: University of Missouri

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