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Bacterium that may cause cancer is identified

10.12.2002


A University of Sheffield scientist has isolated a bacterium that may cause cancers in those with a genetic pre-disposition to the disease.



Dr Milton Wainwright, of the University’s Molecular Biology and Biotechnology department, researched historical literature and found that, as early as the 1890s, bacteria were believed to cause cancer. Unfortunately, none of the bacteria involved in these studies were ever kept or even named, making it impossible to verify claims about their role in cancer. Dr Wainwright has now isolated a bacterium that is in many ways similar to these historical isolates; the same bacterium was also linked to cancer during the 1960s, but then ignored. The results of this work will be published in the forthcoming issue of Medical Hypotheses.

Dr Wainwright says, “Most cancer experts remain sceptical of the idea that microbes (with the exception of viruses) can cause cancer in humans. Despite this, bacteria have recently been implicated in stomach and cervical cancer. The isolate is a strain of Bacillus licheniformis, a fairly common bacterium that shows a remarkable ability to change its shape. This ability may help it induce cancer in those people with a genetic predisposition to the disease. There is no fear, however, that cancer can in any way be caught from patients.”


“This discovery may have real importance for the future because if bacteria, including this isolate, do cause cancer then we may be able to arrest the disease using antibiotics or vaccines. Hopefully, this and other studies will lead to more research effort and money being directed towards the microbial theory of cancer.”

Lorna Branton | alfa

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