Skip Content

Bacterial 'communication molecules’ could stop and kill pancreatic cancer cells

26 September 2014

A new study at the University of Missouri has found that a molecule used as a communication system by bacteria can be manipulated to prevent cancer cells from spreading.

The research team says that this communication system could potentially be used to direct how cancer cells behave - or even to die on command.

"During an infection, bacteria release molecules which allow them to 'talk' to each other," said assistant research professor, Senthil Kumar, the lead author of the study. "Depending on the type of molecule released, the signal will tell other bacteria to multiply, escape the immune system or even stop spreading. We found that if we introduce the 'stop spreading' bacteria molecule to cancer cells, those cells will not only stop spreading; they will begin to die as well."

In the study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the research team describe how they treated human pancreatic cancer cells grown in culture with bacterial communication molecules, known as ODDHSL. After the treatment, the pancreatic cancer cells stopped multiplying, failed to migrate and began to die.

"We used pancreatic cancer cells, because those are the most robust, aggressive and hard-to-kill cancer cells that can occur in the human body," Dr Kumar said. "To show that this molecule can not only stop the cancer cells from spreading, but actually cause them to die, is very exciting. Because this treatment shows promise in such an aggressive cancer like pancreatic cancer, we believe it could be used on other types of cancer cells and our lab is in the process of testing this treatment in other types of cancer."

Dr Kumar said the next step in his research is to find a more efficient way to introduce the molecules to the cancer cells before animal and human testing can take place.

"Our biggest challenge right now is to find a way to introduce these molecules in an effective way," Dr Kumar said. "At this time, we only are able to treat cancer cells with this molecule in a laboratory setting. We are now working on a better method which will allow us to treat animals with cancer to see if this therapy is truly effective. The early-stage results of this research are promising. If additional studies, including animal studies, are successful then the next step would be translating this application into clinics."

< Back