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Bacteria 'Communication' Could Kill Cancer on Command

Sep 24, 2014 04:37 PM EDT

A bacterial "communication system" could be used to stop cancer from spreading, and even kill the malignant cells on command, according to new research.

Cancer, while always dangerous, is most life-threatening when the infected cells start to spread to other parts of the body. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri have discovered that a molecule used as a communication system by bacteria can be manipulated to prevent metastasis.

"During an infection, bacteria release molecules which allow them to 'talk' to each other," lead study author Senthi Kumar said in a statement. "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."

In the study, Kumar and co-author Jeffrey Bryan treated human pancreatic cancer cells grown in the lab with bacterial communication molecules, known as ODDHSL. The researchers chose pancreatic cancer in particular because it is one of the most aggressive and hard-to-kill cancers and stopping this disease in its tracks would only offer hope for killing other less robust forms of cancer.

Astoundingly, after the treatment, the pancreatic cancer cells stopped multiplying, failed to migrate and began to die.

"To show that this molecule can not only stop the cancer cells from spreading, but actually cause them to die, is very exciting," Kumar said.

Kumar and is colleagues are currently testing the technique on other types of cancer in the lab. While these results are promising, the next step in this research is to find a more efficient way to introduce the molecules to the cancer cells before animal and human testing can take place.

The findings were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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