NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Bacteria typically blamed for serious food poisoning is now being used to fight cancer.
Scientists have found a way to manipulate the powerful germ, and they say it’s showing promise.
As CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, salmonella is destroying disease.
At Rutgers University, Donald Schaffner — a professor of food microbiology — has studied the dangerous germ for more than a decade.
“It’s responsible for many, many cases of food borne illness each year,” he explained.
But now, instead of making people sick, it’s thought that salmonella can actually help to heal.
“Breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer,” he explained.
Scientists at Cancer Research Center in Missouri have developed a new strain of salmonella.
“This is not the strain you would see off the street,” Dr. Robert Kazmierczak explained.
It’s a strain that won’t cause typical food poisoning symptoms.
Once injected into the blood stream, the salmonella has been engineered to migrate directly to cancer cells and tumors.
“We have a large group of unique, non-toxic salmonella that could target, spread throughout and disrupt tumors while not harming normal cells,” Dr. Kazmierczak said.
The bacteria are actually attracted to the cancerous environment because it’s low in oxygen, while high in a compound called purine that a different detoxified salmonella strain needs.
“We’ve been able to hone what nature started into this treatment,” Alison Dino said.
It’s thought salmonella kills cancer cells by releasing some of its own toxins. Other labs have turned the bacterium into a kind of Trojan horse, carrying chemotherapy into a tumor.
unlike some traditional cancer treatments this seems to have few side effects.
“You could go about your business and still get better,” Dino said.
Researchers are very optimistic.
“This will be a more effective and easier to manage,” Dr. Eisenstark said.
And they’re not the only ones.
“I had to do the chemo, say goodbye to my hair, even though I am in the hair business,” Maria Siniscalchi said.
Virtually every woman in Siniscalchi’s family — including her sister Cindy Kraus — have battled breast cancer.
“You hear you have cancer and you feel your world is collapsing,” Kraus said.
The potential of the new treatment, offers them hope.
“Who would have thought, but I think it’s great,” Kraus said.
Duke University researchers have been similarly successful in treating aggressive forms of brain cancer with salmonella in animals, human clinical trials are likely still years away.