MAY 20, 2024 3:00 AM PDT

Using Bacteria to Activate Anti-Tumor Immunity

WRITTEN BY: Katie Kokolus

Anti-tumor immunity, the immune system’s defense against cancer growth and progression, requires many cells, other biological mediators, and several complex reactions to work effectively.  (See our recent coverage on T cell activation for more information).   

T cells , a crucial component of the immune system, play a pivotal role in mounting an effective anti-tumor immune response.  When T cells detect antigens from cancer cells, they initiate an immune response.  This triggers a series of biological signals that drive the anti-tumor immune response, leading to the eradication of cancer cells.  

Researchers are constantly exploring novel methods to enhance the induction of anti-tumor immune responses, with the aim of advancing cancer treatment strategies.  A recent study, published in Science introduces a unique approach that harnesses the power of bacteria to stimulate potent anti-tumor immunity.

The study premise rests on a long-understood paradigm that certain bacterial colonies induce specific T cell responses.  Notably, this occurs without an infection and in otherwise healthy conditions. 

To develop a new approach to anti-tumor immune induction, the researchers turned to a common skin bacterium, Staphylococcus epidermidis (S epidermidis).  They then genetically modified this bacterium to produce melanoma antigens, a crucial step in their innovative strategy.     

When applied to the skin of mice with melanoma, the modified S. epidermidis elicited tumor-specific T cells that effectively carried on functional immunity.  The T cells induced by the bacteria circulated throughout the body, a positive readout for immunological efficacy.  Notably, the T cells effectively infiltrated melanoma tumors and metastatic lesions.  Once these T cells infiltrated the cancerous areas, they exerted the functional capacity to eliminate melanoma cells. 

The study's findings hold significant implications for cancer treatment. The application of modified bacteria to the skin could potentially trigger a T cell immune response at a distant site, opening up the possibility of a topical, non-invasive approach to cancer treatment. This innovative concept could revolutionize our ability to combat cancer. Moreover, the feasibility of directing an immune response against a specific target could be a game-changer in personalized medicine regimens, offering new hope for tailored treatments.  


Sources: Science, Nat Rev Microbiol

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I received a PhD in Tumor Immunology from SUNY Buffalo and BS and MS degrees from Duquesne University. I also completed a postdoc fellowship at the Penn State College of Medicine. I am interested in developing novel strategies to improve the efficacy of immunotherapies used to extend cancer survivorship.
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