WELLINGTON, March 3 (Xinhua) -- The introduction of bacteria to the body can help cancer patients fight tumors like melanoma, New Zealand researchers announced Monday.
Research showed the bacteria could stimulate a type of immune response that resulted in more effective killer cell attacks against cancer, Associate Professor Alex McLellan, of the University of Otago's Department of Microbiology and Immunology, said in a statement.
"By using bacteria we can excite an immune response against cancer and our results show that natural killer cells are very important in this enhanced response," McLellan said.
"What we've discovered is that these natural killer cells are stimulated by bacteria to enhance the potency of the immune response to the tumor. Interestingly, natural killer cells don't seem to make the vaccine any stronger, but rather enhance the visibility of the tumor to the immune response induced by vaccination."
An immunological approach to cancer went back to the 1890s when U.S. surgeon William Coley discovered that when a patient was inoculated or infected with bacteria it could have a significant effect or even destroy the cancer, but the approach was not seriously pursued after the development of chemotherapy and radiation, said McLellan.
The next step was to test the findings using human cells, and then extend it to cancer patients through collaborators in Germany, he said.