A harmful germ proves hopeful in the fight against prostate cancer
COLUMBIA, 11/10/12 (Beat Byte) -- Big news for a small, non-profit medical facility in Columbia, where a 90-something researcher's quixotic quest to bring an unusual but promising cancer treatment from the lab to the bedside has received an important official blessing.
After years of stops, starts, and the goodwill of hopeful supporters, the United States government has awarded a patent to Abraham Eisenstark and Robert Kazmierczak of the Cancer Research Center on Berrywood Drive.
Supported almost entirely by private donations, fundraising campaigns, and an annual dinner -- the Jim Kidwell Memorial Gala -- that brings together a cross-section of the community unlike virtually any other event, the 50-year-old Cancer Research Center (CRC) is an intimate training ground for young researchers and now, center stage for a Polish immigrant -- Eisenstark -- whose first steps into America started at Ellis Island.
Anyone who knows the 93-year-old Eisenstark has been hearing about his innovation for years: make Salmonella -- a common and sometimes deadly food-poisoning bacteria -- into a weapon against prostate cancer.
A subtype of the bacteria -- Salmonella typhimurium -- has a special ability to target and kill both prostate and breast cancer cells. But at the same time, Salmonella is toxic.
"What is needed is a strain of S. typhimurium having reduced or no toxicity while retaining the ability to target and destroy cancer cells," Eisenstark explains. CRC's genetic engineering makes the Salmonella non-toxic to normal cells, and takes advantage of its "uncanny ability to distinguish healthy cells from cancerous cells," where it replicates and kills the cancer.
To make it non-toxic, the Eisenstark-Kazmierczak method alters three genes in a strain of Salmonella typhimurium aptly called CRC-2631.
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Filed in May 2008, amended in May 2009, and granted this October, Patent 8282919 is -- next to FDA approval -- the most significant acknowledgement that the new method will work. The research behind it dates back over 30 years, from papers about how Salmonella mutants jump start the human immune system to germ-based tumor targeting in mice.
With so many years in the making, the Eisenstark-Kazmierczak treatment sounds like a fine wine coming of age.
A "biologically pure" form of the genetically-altered Salmonella strain, CRC-2631 "was naturally tempered during 40 years of storage prior to meticulous genetic modifications to further eliminate toxicity and enhance its tumor destroying ability," the CRC team explains.
The method holds special promise for its ability to tackle later stages of prostate cancer. Current treatments like Taxol chemotherapy are effective only when the cancer is diagnosed early. But after two years, most prostate cancer patients don't respond to chemotherapy, "making alternatives very important," Eisenstark says.
Germo-therapy may be a hopeful alternative for many cancers, one day supplementing or even replacing chemotherapy, he adds. "Cancer patients will only have to get an injection of tumor-seeking bacteria every couple of weeks. Imagine, no hair loss or loss of healthy cells."