Possible new treatment for bladder cancer using a mycobacterium

Collaborators at the UAB and IBEC have found a mycobacterium that is more effective in treating superficial bladder cancer and does not cause infections, unlike those used up to now.

Mycobacteria are the only bacteria used in cancer treatment. The administration of the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (BCG) is the current treatment for superficial bladder cancer, and is inserted directly into the bladder through a catheter. BCG prevents new tumours from appearing, but despite its efficacy it has many adverse side effects, the most serious being BCG infections that need to be treated with antituberculous drugs.

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A study of the characteristics of a wide group of mycobacteria begun seven years ago by the Mycobacteria Research Group, led by Dr. Esther Julián of the Department of Genetics and Microbiology, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), has discovered that one of these, Mycobacterium brumae (M.  brumae), is able to reduce the growth of tumour cells in the bladder and activate an immune response.

Pre-clinical studies using mouse models of bladder cancer have demonstrated the efficacy of the mycobacterium M. brumae in the treatment of this disease. Mice with bladder tumours that are treated with M. brumae in the same way as patients survive longer than untreated mice and, what’s more, in larger numbers than those treated with the usual mycobacterium, BCG. The studies conducted at the UAB have shown that M. brumae is not pathogenic, presenting no risk of causing infections, which means it would have fewer adverse side effects on patients than BCG.

Furthermore, the fact that M. brumae is a rapid-growth, non-pathogenic mycobacterium makes it easier and quicker to produce on a large scale than BCG, which is significant given that in the last few years BCG production problems have led to supply issues for certain bladder cancer patients. “Our results suggest that Mycobacterium brumae is an ideal candidate to replace the current BCG treatment for superficial bladder cancer,» concludes Dr. Julián.

The study, published in the journal European Urology Focus, was conducted in collaboration with Rosa M. Rabanal of the Murine and Comparative Pathology Unit, Department of Animal Medicine and Surgery, UAB, and with the Bacterial Infections: Antimicrobial Therapies group led by Eduard Torrents at the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC).

Original article:
Noguera-Ortega E, Secanella-Fandos S, Eraña H, Gasión J, Rabanal RM, Luquin M, Torrents E, and Julián E. (2015). The non-pathogenic Mycobacterium brumae inhibits bladder cancer growth in vitro, ex vivo, and in vivo. European Urology FOCUS. DOI: 10.1016/j.euf.2015.03.003.