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Bacteria Are Being Reprogrammed to Eat Brain Tumors

Now that the five second rule has been proven to be a myth, it’s likely that infections of bacteria such as salmonella will decrease as people (hopefully) stop eating food they drop on the ground. However, new research in bacterial modification just might mean a lot more salmonella in everyone’s futures. According to a recent Duke University press release, a team of Duke biomedical researchers have developed a strain of salmonella which they claim can seek out and destroy brain tumors from the inside out.

Salmonella typhimurium (pink) attacking human cells.

Salmonella typhimurium (pink) attacking human cells.

The bacteria, the common, often foodborne strain of Salmonella typhimurium, was genetically altered to seek out an enzyme specific to certain types of brain tumors. Once inside the tumor, the bacteria produces two proteins which essentially eat the tumor from the inside out.

Bacteria, or tumor-seeking missile?

Tiny genetically-modified tumor-seeking missiles.

According to their press release, the researchers claim this treatment offers a revolutionary new hope for people with these tumors:

With a few genetic tweaks, the engineers turned the bacterium into a cancer-seeking missile that produces self-destruct orders deep within tumors. Tests in rat models with extreme cases of the disease showed a remarkable 20 percent survival rate over 100 days—roughly equivalent to 10 human years—with the tumors going into complete remission.

One of the major difficulties of creating drugs which can target specific glioblastoma brain tumors is the blood brain barrier. This semipermeable membrane surrounds the brain and separates the blood supply from spinal and cerebral fluids in order to prevent bloodborne pathogens from reaching the brain. According to the Duke researchers’ recently-published data in Molecular Therapy Oncolytics, the salmonella bacteria can overcome this barrier, making it far more effective than conventional drug-based therapies:

[…] use of bacteria as a carrier for plasmid-mediated expression of proteins affords improved programmability and sustained drug delivery compared to conventional gene therapies.

Cancer is one of the enduring plagues upon human existence, with a history of affecting humans stretching back some 1.7 million years. However, as CRISPR gene-editing techniques continue to be refined and tested, it might not be too long before diseases are a thing of the past.

Glioblastoma tumors are some of the most difficult tumors to treat.

Glioblastoma tumors are some of the most difficult tumors to treat.

Still, the long-term effects of gene therapy and groundbreaking new genetically-modified bacterial treatments are unknown. While these might be a boon to the human lifespan, they could also unleash unknown horrors upon the human race. Still, given the millions of people who die from cancer worldwide every year, I’d say it’s worth a shot either way. The apocalyptic dystopian future’s gotta happen sooner or later.