Since at least the latter part of the 19th century medicine has combatted cancer via surgery, the use of toxic chemicals and radiation.
During the last century a number of notable experimental treatments, including interrupting the supply of blood to cancer cells and the use of interferon in order to boost the body’s immune system, have resulted in some promising, albeit spotty results.
But in the past month a paper called the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, which was written by a group of researchers, a more targeted treatment of pancreatic cancer offers more consistent results, at least in trials that were conducted on a small number of tumor-afflicted mice.
In the trials, the researchers gave the mice bacteria that contained a radioactive isotope that has been shown to be harmful to tumors and metastases that result from pancreatic cancer.
The reason they decided to use bacteria—in this case, the bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes—because they knew that cancer cells tend to suppress the immune system where they thrive.
According to their findings, the radioactive isotopes broke apart the DNA of the cancer cells, thus destroying them and preventing them replicating.
The parts of the body that were yet unaffected by the cancer (prior to the experimental treatment) were able to fight off the bacteria, which produce mild and temporary flu-like symptoms.
Thus, the bacteria were used a means by which the deadly isotopes could be delivered into the cancer cells.
The results were consistent and worked for the mice used in the study.
Researchers noted that the liver and the kidneys of the mice were, to some degree, affected but not irreparably so.
The bacteria are process by the liver and excreted by the kidneys after non-cancerous cells have dispatched the bacteria during the body’s immune processes.
The researchers say that they are working to improve the procedure to cause less damage and to deliver more effectively the radioactive isotope—rhenium—to the cancer cells.
But, as always with regard to such studies, the caveat is that the results observed with regard to mice might not be replicated as well with humans.
Researchers are seeking sponsors for a trial in people.
Pancreatic cancer is known to be one of the most difficult cancers to treat.
With respect to the U.S., pancreatic cancer is the third most common cause of cancer deaths among women, after lung and breast cancer, and the fourth most common cause of cancer deaths, after lung, prostate and colorectal cancer among men.