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Common Food-borne Bacteria Could Help Fight Brain Cancer

When you hear the word Salmonella, you probably think about food poisoning rather than fighting brain cancer. However, one strain of the notorious bacterium may be able to do both.

A team of biomedical engineers currently based at Duke University recently announced that they believe an avirulent strain of Salmonella typhimurium could actually deliver life-saving treatments directly to the cells in glioblastoma (GBM) tumors, which are located in the supportive tissues of the brain and sometimes the spinal cord and are notoriously difficult to reach with treatment. “A comprehensive analysis of data from 10 years has indicated that only 0.7% (median) of administered dose of nanoparticles reach solid tumors,” noted Ravi Bellamkonda, PhD, Vinik Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University and a professor of biomedical engineering, in the published research, which appeared in Molecular Therapy – Oncolytics

Before the researchers loaded the bacterium with tumor-suppressing proteins and a cancer-cell-killing drug called Azurin, they tested their strain of S. typhimurium aggressively to make sure that it would not make the “patients” in the study, in this instance rats with human glioblastoma cells in their brains, sick. Moving forward, this will be particularly important since other strains of S. typhimurium have, in the past, made some pretty nasty headlines, including a 2008-2009 peanut-butter-linked outbreak that lead to the infection of 714 people in 46 states and Canada, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This case not only made headlines for months, but it was eventually covered in the New England Journal of Medicine because the original source of the contamination was not easy to identify. According to the study, "This nationwide outbreak of human Salmonella Typhimurium infections was linked to the eating of contaminated peanut butter, peanut paste, and roasted peanuts produced at the PCA facilities in Georgia and Texas… The ultimate cause of contamination in this outbreak is unknown; at the Georgia PCA facility, rainwater leakage into storage areas, storage of raw peanuts near roasted peanuts, and possibly inadequate peanut roaster temperatures suggest that salmonella may have arrived on raw peanuts or was introduced in the facility and survived processing. Since peanuts and peanut products were transferred between the Texas and Georgia facilities, both of which had inadequacies on inspection, it is not possible to say where the contamination originated."

Influenza A (H3N2) has caused most of the illnesses in this severe flu season, but influenza B is becoming increasingly responsible for more infections as the flu season continues to hit the United States.