Challenges for oncology practitioners and researchers include specific treatment and detection of tumours. The ideal anti-cancer therapy would selectively eradicate tumour cells, whilst minimising side effects to normal tissue. Bacteria have emerged as biological gene vectors with natural tumour specificity, capable of homing to tumours and replicating locally to high levels when systemically administered. This property enables targeting of both the primary tumour and secondary metastases. In the case of invasive pathogenic species, this targeting strategy can be used to deliver genes intracellularly for tumour cell expression, while non-invasive species transformed with plasmids suitable for bacterial expression of heterologous genes can secrete therapeutic proteins locally within the tumour environment (cell therapy approach). Many bacterial genera have been demonstrated to localise to and replicate to high levels within tumour tissue when intravenously (IV) administered in rodent models and reporter gene tagging of bacteria has permitted real-time visualisation of this phenomenon. Live imaging of tumour colonising bacteria also presents diagnostic potential for this approach. The nature of tumour selective bacterial colonisation appears to be tumour origin- and bacterial species- independent. While originally a correlation was drawn between anaerobic bacterial colonisation and the hypoxic nature of solid tumours, it is recently becoming apparent that other elements of the unique microenvironment within solid tumours, including aberrant neovasculature and local immune suppression, may be responsible. Here, we consider the pre-clinical and clinical data supporting the use of bacteria as a tumour-targeting tool, recent advances in the area, and future work required to develop a beneficial clinical treatment.
Keywords: Gene therapy, cell therapy, cancer, diagnostics, Bifidobacterium, Salmonella, Clostridium
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