Saving lives with salmonella

November 14, 2011 2:45:31 PM PST
It hospitalizes 20-thousand and kills almost four hundred people every year. Now doctors are turning to this killer to fight cancer.

Fred Oakden has battled colon cancer for seven years. He knows it will kill him.

"It's not what you want, but you don't have a whole hell of a lot of choice," he said.

Fred joined a unique study. Dr. Edward Greeno is testing salmonella to fight cancer

"We're trying to induce an immune response with the salmonella," Dr. Greeno said.

Doctors tried this technique 150 years ago, but it often killed patients. Today, researchers can alter salmonella to make it safe.

"I'm certainly quite hopeful that this going to turn into something that will come into regular clinical use as a valuable agent," he explained.

Salmonella naturally travels to the g-i tract so colon and liver cancers are good targets.

"The bacteria, interestingly, actually doesn't just grow inside your body. It actually gets inside the individual cells so that it's right there inside of the tumor cells," Greeno said.

Salmonella isn't the only bacteria under study. Researchers elsewhere are testing listeria to fight liver cancer. Scientists at the University of Florida are studying bacteria in coral reef to fight cancer and bone disease.

"We really have the tools now to start manipulating bacteria and make them do the things that we want them to do," he said.

Fred was in the first phase of the salmonella study. Dr. Greeno says the dose was likely too small to impact his cancer. But on his last scan, half of his tumors showed no growth.

"I feel really pretty good," Oakden said.

Today, Fred spends his time shooting and editing footage of his family. He wants to focus not on his cancer, but what he'll leave behind.

Greeno's salmonella trial is now in a phase where patients are getting higher and more potent doses of the bacteria. The treatment is easy - patients simply drink a solution that contains salmonella - and there are minimal side effects.

The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health, The Masonic Cancer Center and Botanic Oil Innovations.