Useful Bacteria and Cancer treatment

One disease can be useful in treatment of other ailment. It was found by W. Busch and F. Fehleisen, round about 150 years ago, when they found that an infection of erysipelas (an acute streptococcus bacteria infection) was helpful in reducing the tumor. Bacteria can be a useful source for the alternative treatment of cancer.

Then the scientist William B. Coley found that the concoction (known as Coley’s toxin) of two microbes i.e. Streptococcus pyogenes and Serratia marcescens is helpful in treating patients with sarcomas (cancerous growth in muscle and bone).

Streptococcus pyogenes

Scientists have found that anaerobic bacteria (bacteria not needing oxygen) can grow in tumors but these bacteria can not be used for tumor prevention as they themselves can cause disease.

One most important discovery in the treatment of cancer with the help of bacteria is by the use of Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG). This Mycobacterium bovis strain was successfully used by Morales and colleagues in 1976 for the cure of superficial bladder cancer and has become the treatment of choice in this respect.

Calmette-Guérin bacillus, Credit: wikipedia

Probiotic (beneficial live micro-organisms) strains of E. coli Nissle 1917 (EcN) has been found to be an attractive candidate for detecting and destroying solid tumors.

E-coli, Credit:

Secondary metabolites produced by marine bacteria also found to have anticancer properties like bryostatins, eleutherobin, discodermolide and sarcodictyin. Some probiotic bacteria like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli are found to cause the production of some anticancer substances. In fact, lactobacilli is found to cause a reduction in experimental colon cancer.

One of the metabolite, macrolactin-A, from bacteria is found to stop the B16-F10 murine melanoma cancer cells. Kahalalide-F (KF) is a compound, thought to be synthesized by the microbes associated with the mollusk Elysia rubefescens, has found to be active against solid tumors having more effect on prostate cancer cells. This agent has also been found to be active against colon cancers and breast cancers.


Boopathy, N. S. et. al. (2010). Anticancer Drugs fromMarine Flora: An Overview. Journal of Oncology, 2010, Article ID 214186.

Oelschlaeger, T. A. Bacteria as tumor therapeutics? Bioengineered Bugs, 2010; 1(2), 146-147

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