Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Bacteria Communication Chemicals May Help to Treat Cancer

Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria that are magnified
10,000 times
Strange as it may sound, bacteria can communicate with each other. They release chemicals that change the behaviour of other bacteria in their species that are located nearby. Different chemicals produce different effects. For example, one chemical "tells" other bacteria to reproduce while another tells them to stop spreading to new areas. The chemicals cause changes in the bacteria that produce the observed effects. Unlike human speech, though, the instructions aren't understood consciously.

Cancer researchers are especially interested in a communication chemical that stops bacterial cells from migrating. Cancer is hardest to treat once it's spread to a new part of the body. It it can be restricted to one area, the chance of a cure is much higher. Researchers at the University of Missouri have found that one bacterial chemical can stop human cancer cells from spreading, at least under laboratory conditions.

The researchers discovered that bacterial communication or signaling molecules known as ODDHSL molecules destroyed pancreatic cancer cells. The molecules stopped cancer cells in a lab dish from multipying and migrating and eventually killed the cells. The discovery is exciting because pancreatic cancer is very hard to treat. However, it's important to remember that the results were obtained in isolated cancer cells. Many chemicals have been found to work in lab equipment but not once they are in the human body. Tests with animals are necessary before clinical trials can be performed with humans.

The idea that bacteria may be able to help treat human cancer is both encouraging and intriguing. Cancer is a major and very common health problem. We need new ways to treat the disease. Bacteria signaling molecules may provide one of these ways.