Luminescent bacteria help monitor tumors

Dec. 12, 2012
Researchers at the Cork Cancer Research Centre at University College Cork (UCC; Cork, Ireland) are using 3-D bioluminescence imaging to track bacteria within tumors in real time.

One of the biggest problems in the development of cancer therapies has been the targeting of tumors for treatment while leaving healthy, normal cells untouched.

Bacteria have a natural ability to grow inside tumors, a fact that has been known for some time. In fact, when non-disease causing bacteria are injected intravenously, they are attracted to tumors, but fail to gain a foothold anywhere else in the body.

Now, a research team led by Dr. Mark Tangney at the Cork Cancer Research Centre, (CCRC) at University College Cork (UCC; Cork, Ireland), believe that they have taken a key step to discover why and how the bacteria prefer the company of tumors to healthy tissue.

Dr. Tangney and his team have developed a way to track bacteria within tumors in real time to learn more about what makes the tumor environment so attractive to these microbes. By engineering probiotic bacteria to produce luminescent light, the team were able to monitor bacterial growth in tumors as it happened using 3-D bioluminescence imaging.

This scanning method revealed information about the number and location of the bacteria, precisely revealing where the bacteria were living in the tumor.

Imaging the light from bacteria could be combined with CT scanning to provide details of their relationship with different parts of the tumor, such as the blood supply.

The work was performed by Dr. Michelle Cronin, Dr. Sara Collins and others from the CCRC in collaboration with a US industrial partner Perkin Elmer (Waltham MA, USA), a research team at the University of California Los Angeles and researchers at UCC's department of microbiology.

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-- Dave Wilson, Senior Editor, Vision Systems Design

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