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When it comes to the health ailments a person can suffer from through their lifetime, nothing strikes fear as much as cancer. If the fatal outcomes of the disease don’t do the job, then chemotherapy and radiation are enough to make anyone shudder.
That said, perhaps the most advancements in the field of medical science have happened in the field of cancer research. So much so that a University of Missouri researcher has found a new way to help the body’s immune system to destroy cancer.
“Normally, your body’s immune cells are constantly on patrol to identify and destroy foreign entities in the body,” said Yves Chabu, an assistant professor in the Division of Biological Sciences.
“Normal cells put up a ‘don’t-eat-me’ molecular flag that is recognised by immune cells, thereby preventing the destruction of normal tissues. But some cancers have also developed the ability to mimic normal cells and produce this ‘don’t eat me’ signal. As a consequence, the immune system fails to recognise cancer as a defective tissue and leaves it alone, which is bad news for the patient,” added Chabu.
Immunotherapies are cancer drugs that essentially block the “don’t-eat-me” signal coming from cancer and allow the immune-system to kill it.
Chabu, whose appointment is in the College of Arts and Science, said while these immunotherapies work for certain types of cancers, prostate cancer is highly immunosuppressive, meaning the cancer’s physical and molecular environments simply overpower the body’s immune system.
But Chabu might have unlocked a solution with help from a more than 50-year-old strain of bacteria.
“Cancers are different in one individual to the next, even when they affect the same tissue. These interpersonal differences contribute to whether or not a particular therapy will effectively kill the cancer and help the patient. The bacteria itself is genetically pliable, therefore it can be genetically modified to overcome patient-specific therapeutic limits,” Chabu said.
“Imagine a patient whose cancer isn’t responding to traditional therapies and has no other treatment options. One can envision genetically modifying the bacteria such that it can unload therapeutics that specifically exploit that cancer’s unique vulnerabilities and kill it,” added Chabu.
In a previous study, scientists at the Cancer Research Center and the University of Missouri developed a genetically distinct and non-toxic strain of salmonella called CRC2631 to select and kill cancer cells.
CRC2631 was derived from another strain of salmonella that had been stored at room temperature for more than half a century. Now, scientists like Chabu are demonstrating the ability for CRC2631, which enthusiastically targets cancerous tumours, to be used to unleash the body’s immune-system against prostate cancer.
“Because CRC2631 preferentially colonises tumour cells, the effect is mainly localized to the tumour. The use of CRC2631 to design and deliver patient-tailored therapeutics foretells potential in precision medicine, or the ability to tailor a treatment to a specific patient,” Chabu said.