There are so many nasty bacterial entities in the world that can disrupt our everyday lives and I often write about how some bacteria evolve into the superbug, treatment resistant types. Today, however, I’d like to share an interesting piece of research that I came across recently that turns bad bacteria into the good guys.
Salmonella is one of those nasty bacteria that can contaminate food during food handling or processing, usually spread from the unwashed hands of an infected food handler. Reptiles, poultry animals and rodents are the likely carriers of Salmonella. This nasty bug is responsible for about one million cases of food poisoning a year.
Although not usually fatal, Salmonella poisoning can cause severe diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramping. The symptoms develop over 12 to 72 hours and can last from four miserable days to about a week. Dehydration from the diarrhea can make this bacterium a killer in geographical areas with insufficient medical facility support.
In a recent study, Duke University researchers genetically modified the bacterium Salmonella typhimurium not to attack the gastrointestinal tract, but instead to fight one of the more aggressive forms of brain cancer.
Glioblastoma brain tumors usually kill a person within about fifteen months, even with the best medical care available. Statistics show that only about ten percent of patients manage to survive five years after diagnosis.
An issue common to many brain cancers is the fact that the blood-brain barrier makes it difficult, if not impossible, to use drug-based treatments effectively to cross that barrier. However, these researchers have found an unlikely tool by genetically modifying Salmonella into a cancer seeking smart bomb that self-destructs inside tumors.
Once these specially modified Salmonella bacteria were injected directly into the brain, they dug deep into the tumors, rapidly multiplied and produced a duo of toxic compounds (Azurian and p53) to cause the cancer cells to destruct, killing both the tumors and the Salmonella bacteria.
Animal study tests indicate that extreme cases of glioblastoma in these lab rats produced an astonishing twenty percent survival rate, with remission rates equivalent to ten human years.
One of the reasons that I find such research so fascinating is, not only because of the humanitarian efforts to eradicate lethal disease, but because of the potential to use such research in one of my thriller or murder mystery stories.
Genetically modified products of all kinds could play an interesting center stage role in murder plots if the research goes sideways (intentionally or not) and disastrous, lethal consequences ensue.
My imagination just went into overdrive! How about yours?
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!