The loco-regional control of cancer remains a major contributor to the treatment outcome for many cancer patients prescribed conventional radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Failure of treatment coupled with the realisation that cancer is essentially a genetic disease has led to development of many clinical protocols based on gene therapy. In this review, we will describe an alternative gene delivery system based on the use of non-pathogenic bacteria. Tumor regressions have been reported long ago in patients with bacterially infected tumors, suggesting that bacteria could target tumors and have local anti-tumor effects. The basis of this phenomenon is attributable to the unique properties of the tumor micro-environment. The presence of hypoxic and / or necrotic areas provides a haven for a number of anaerobic bacteria and over the past 60 years, several strains of anaerobic bacteria have been shown to localise within and cause cell lysis of experimental animal tumors. One of the most important strains in that context is Clostridium. Other bacteria have also been implicated in experimental anti-cancer settings. Of these, attenuated Salmonella strains capable of both selective amplification within tumors and expression of effector genes encoding therapeutic proteins are probably the most promising. We will discuss the potential advantages and the pitfalls of this alternative delivery approach. We will emphasize the importance of hypoxia in solid tumors and discuss the potential of radiation-inducible promoters and combined treatment modalities, involving vascular targeting and radiotherapy. We believe that this approach will act in a complementary way to current radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments of solid tumors.
Keywords: hypoxia, clostridium, salmonella, bifidobacterium, bacteria, tumor
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