Bacteria as a Cancer Detective

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Exploring the ‘dual citizenship’ for accurate detection

Probiotics often bring to mind ideas of diet and nutrition, but they have so much more potential. The key factor of those benefits is in the sheer level of information available.

John Thomas, PhD, a veteran of academic medicine and retiree from West Virginia University School of Medicine, who reentered the industry as professor emeritus, observed, “I think of probiotics as a library. The microbes that we choose provide information. Their genetic inheritance—the bugs, that is—that we choose as probiotics in fact have a library of information. It’s that information that the human body responds to. I would like people to recognize that probiotics are books of information.“

This is the crux of probiotics and what they may offer. This information, as we’ve come to learn, is already part of our biological makeup in a way, making it all the more critical that we understand these microbes properly. Thomas provided, “We need to get away from the idea of taking a lozenger, taking a gum, taking a pill or just taking some ‘bugs,’ because what we’re doing is taking a gene with in fact more gene strength than we have—a gene that is already part of an organ system that exists in our body.”

These microbes are part of a unique relationship. By understanding this relationship, we come closer to understanding the potential. “We’re beginning to understand the mechanisms of this dual citizenship and how important it is. If we can maximize this dual citizenship to help in the detection of abnormal human cells, then we can get the public to think differently,” Thomas stated.

Detection with Genetic Strength

A change in thinking has come to include the recognition of probitotics and their potential for cancer detection. Thomas said, “If you look at the genetic strength of microbes, they have about 320 times the number of genes as us. In fact, they’re one of the most specific, updated super computer systems in the world and you and I are on an old Mac 2.”

In light of this immense genetic strength and its clear superiority to our own, we can begin to paint a clearer picture of why this dual citizenship should be encouraged, particularly in the detection of diseases.

Probiotics and Their Methods

“In the past, we’ve described probiotics as working in one of two ways: either they are effective in reducing microbes that are deleterious or pathogenic, and/or they stimulate the immune system. The better term for the latter is that they are immune modulating,” provided Thomas.

With some understanding of the potential functions, it is easier to segue into some of the known categories. Specific selections from these categories, and our ability to identify them, have cleared the way for knowing which probiotics can be used in the pursuit of cancer detection and treatment.

“Then there are those that are called predatory, and these are hyper-active probiotic microbes that are able to devour, digest and eliminate a target, whether that target is bacteria or tumor cells. The bottom line is that it all has to do with information and genetic strength. We’re going well beyond the bug. The bug is merely the envelope that covers the gene strength of cells that we call bacteria or fungi,” Thomas added.

These predatory probiotics are a key part of cancer detection and treatment. As Thomas reminded us, however, it’s not a matter of being aware of specific applications of these probiotic categories so much as being able to open up the vast library of potential applications they offer.

Matching the Bug

By moving beyond the bug, beyond the envelope, we come to see that these microbes must be specifically matched to patients in order to optimize their potential.

“What is now apparent is that you have to match the probiotic and the gene strength you’re selecting to the age of the patient and the kind of disease you’re treating, and we’ve never done that,” Thomas stated. “I’ve developed what I call the microbial clock. If we look at microbes as our dual partners, over time, they clearly change as a result of lifestyle, different places on the Earth, things we do, etc. What we need to do with the use of probiotics in management of multiple diseases, including cancer detection and/or therapy, is choose a different probiotic for each different cancer as determined by age.”

Manipulating the Bug

Probiotics can not only change, but be changed. That cellular structure and those appendages can be manipulated. “That’s the whole point. We have found that these altered cellular components on the structure of the bacteria can be manipulated. We can manipulate the gene pool. If we can manipulate the genetics of the bacteria, we can manipulate their homing abilities. That’s exactly where we’re going,” Thomas provided.

This manipulation occurs only because of the genetic information library the microbes offer. In unlocking that library, a firm definition for a specific bug, begins to form and can serve a directed purpose.

Dyeing the Bug

How do probiotics reveal cancer? One possible answer is dye.

“We can alter the homing bacteria with the use of different stains that have different photonic release, which lets us stimulate the bacteria with different imaging capabilities,” Thomas noted. “The whole concept of illumination deals with either luminescence or autofluorescence. Microbes can be stimulated to either autofluoresce or they can be given a dye which will stimulate when you illuminate them with a certain wave of energy,” Thomas said.

This capability takes the idea of using dyes, which isn’t that novel, to an immensely specific and targeted level for cancer detection. Having a biological partner with a matched genetic property and age, a manipulated development and function demonstrates just what probiotics offer in the field of cancer detection. The potential delivery of the manipulated microbe and its ability to change using homing and predatory (detection and treatment) functions is within grasp.

We know that the genetic library is there. Now, we just have to unmask the various capabilities to better understand this dual citizenship.

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Silas Gossman
Silas Gossman

Silas Gossman is a former ADVANCE staff member.

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