Sep. 12, 1997 As the University of Illinois at Chicago's Institute for Tuberculosis Research celebrates its 50th anniversary, researchers here are moving forward to identify components of the tuberculosis vaccine, BCG, that are effective in the treatment of cancers when taken orally.
The institute first made headlines in 1950 when its renowned director, the late Dr. Sol Roy Rosenthal, developed what appeared to be a new substrain and superior form of BCG, called the Tice substrain (after his mentor). The Tice substrain was the only effective TB vaccine available in the United States, though other BCG vaccines have been used in Western Europe for decades.
With the decline of TB cases in the United States and a growing body of research showing BCG to be an effective stimulant of the immune system and anti-cancer agent, researchers at the Institute shifted the focus of their work. They began to extract and identify the components of BCG that are effective against cancer and tested those components in laboratory and animal studies.
The UIC institute's most recently published research offers promise for an effective non-surgical treatment of breast and other hormone-dependent cancers that would be delivered orally and fight cancer using the patient's own immune system. Researchers identified an orally active compound from BCG that suppressed a hormone-dependent, human breast-cancer cell line growing in mice without functioning immune systems.
BCG already is an established clinical treatment for bladder cancer, and tests also have shown it to be effective against colon and lung cancers. To work, BCG cells must have direct contact with tumor cells. Patients being treated with BCG for bladder cancer, therefore, must be injected with the vaccine. Injecting BCG close to the tumor, however, carries a risk. A blood vessel may be nicked and the living organism can grow in the patient.
The anti-cancer component of BCG identified by UIC researchers not only may be taken orally, but also may be produced inexpensively. Researchers estimate that a human dose could cost as little as $3. The compound developed at the Institute for Tuberculosis Research has the added benefit of having no unpleasant side-effects, such as the flu-like syndrome that accompanies immunization with the TB vaccine. Further investigation into the active BCG component and its mode of action is planned and will be necessary before the institute can begin human clinical testing.
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