Promising Research Using Bacteria to Shrink Tumors

Over 200 years ago, a surgeon in New York City, named Dr. William Coley, discovered that he could fight the tumors of cancer patients by injecting them with live Streptococcus bacteria.  After some trial and error, he switched to using dead bacteria, and ultimately treated over 1000 patients with what were eventually dubbed “Coley toxins.”  The advent of current cancer treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy and surgery pushed Coley’s methods into the background.  Interestingly, though, it was discovered in 1999 that his success rates were similar to those for modern cancer therapies.

For over a decade, Bert Vogelstein, a cancer geneticist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, has been using the soil-dweller bacterium, Clostridium novyi.  This bacterium thrives in areas of low oxygen, which is typical of tumors.  While initial results were promising in rats, the researchers then extended the study to 16 pet dogs, and found that the tumors shrank or disappeared in six of the dogs, and stopped growing in another five dogs.  Several of the dogs needed surgery to clear the wounds when the tumors disintegrated.  Following the canine study, a safety trial was performed on one person.  More details on the study can be found here.

In addition to destroying tumor cells, the bacteria also spur immune cells in the body to attack the cancer.  The biggest concern associated with this method is that the bacteria only kill the original tumor, but do not address metastases, which are what ultimately kill most cancer patients.  In order to be truly effective, the treatment must combat metastatic disease.

4 thoughts on “Promising Research Using Bacteria to Shrink Tumors

  1. jeanettesavill

    Hiog hope its alright to leave some comments I had a dog brandy corgi cross he was about 17 so good age he developed throat cancer mass celltumour he had op which I don’t know if I done right by it because some people say it was best not to have op he was such a strong dog he go alright for a while then his face would swell up and would need portion then injections from vet s any way would there have been anything else I could have done or better ihope I never have another dog with cancer but I just hope if there is everything I do ok thanks

    1. lola Post author

      Hi Jeanette — it sounds like you did the best you could for Brandy, and he lived a long, full life. It is hard to say whether you could have done anything more, but you should be proud that he lived to 17 years — that is a huge accomplishment! Take care — Lola

  2. Karen Fried

    My Bentley was just 7 when he was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma. He initially got a perforation from deramaxx and survived emergency surgery. He was doing so good. We began cold laser therapy for arthritis. They thought his elbow swelled up, septic from perforation… But when about to scrape elbow saw it was cancer. I couldn’t let him go. I had the leg removed and we went through 4 of 5 chemo treatments when we found out it had metastasized. I lost the love of my life. I pray there’s something that can help our K9 family. So no more dogs or humans have to endure this pain.

    1. lola Post author

      Karen — I am so sorry to hear about Bentley and share your experience of losing the love of your life. I felt the same way when I lost each of my three dogs. Our time with them is so short. I am encouraged that improvements are being made each year to combat many different types of canine cancer, which is the sole reason I write this blog! Best,



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