A stomach bug means bad news for lymphoma

September 4, 2012 | by Wayne Lewis

Usually, we hate salmonella.

Photo of researcher holding eggIt’s the reason you’ve got to make sure your chicken is cooked through. These bacteria cause food poisoning so serious it can even be deadly to people with weakened immune systems.

We may yet learn to like salmonella if City of Hope virologist Don J. Diamond, Ph.D., has his way.

Diamond is leading studies to turn the household bug against diseases such as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He plans to take advantage of a surprising trait of salmonella: The bacteria naturally seek out tumor cells.

Salmonella as a cancer-fighter isn’t a new idea. But Diamond has his own twist.

Using funds from his 2012–13 Tim Nesvig Lymphoma Fellowship, Diamond is improving a weakened, safe form of salmonella he says “performed beautifully in the laboratory, but had disappointing results in the clinic.” He and his team are amping up the bacteria’s natural cancer-finding ability.

So far, they’ve published exciting results in melanoma and pancreatic cancer. Ultimately, they hope to use the souped-up salmonella to help the body fight lymphoma. The plan: The bacteria travel to cancer cells and then push the body’s natural defenses to fight the cancer.

The scientists expect that a resulting treatment would be gentler on patients than the treatments of today.

That would be a good development coming from a bug that’s usually bad news.

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