Researchers find common mouth bacterium could help slow down cancer

3D illustration showing abundant acute lymphoblastic leukemia in a blood vessel.
3D illustration showing abundant acute lymphoblastic leukemia in a blood vessel. Photo credit iStock/Getty Images Plus
By , KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — New Jersey researchers studying a protein produced by a bacterium naturally found in healthy mouths think it can be used to kill leukemia and lymphoma cells.

Dr. Scott Kachlany, an associate professor of oral biology at Rutgers University School of Dental Medicine, is the founder and chief scientist at Actinobac Biomed, which is conducting the Phase 1 clinical trial.

"The bacterium needs to be able to evade or get around the host immune system. The way the bacterium does that is it produces leukothera," Kachlany said.

"Leukothera knows how to target certain white blood cells, and these white blood cells that the bacterium is killing are the same white blood cells that are involved in cases of leukemia and lymphoma."

Kachlany says his team's experimental drug, called Leukothera, is injected into the body intravenously.

"Unlike other chemotherapeutic agents, which are relatively non-specific and have adverse reactions, like liver disease, heart disease and kidney disease, Leukothera targets only a subset of white blood cells. So it's not killing liver cells, kidney cells. You're not going to have hair falling out."

The study is testing patients with different types of leukemia and lymphoma to determine if this therapy is safe. The only side effect expected is that Leukothera will kill too many cancer cells too quickly and overwhelm the body with dead cells. ​

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