US scientists have developed a cancer-fighting bacteria that can infiltrate tumours like a Trojan Horse.
Once inside they self-destruct, releasing drugs right in the middle of the tumour where conventional chemotherapy struggles to reach.
"In synthetic biology, one goal of therapeutics is to target disease sites and minimise damage," says Prof Jeff Hasty of the University of California.
He came up with the idea using bacteria to deliver a payload of anti-cancer drugs, and using a genetic "kill circuit" to keep the bacterial colony under control, so it doesn't cause health problems itself.
His team managed to create bacteria that self-destruct once the population reaches a few thousand cells, at the same time releasing a deadly payload of anti-cancer drugs. Once the colony is down to a few cells it starts growing again, repeating the cycle.
The research, so far conducted on mice, is published today in journal Nature.
"Though much further work will be required to make this therapy applicable to humans, it's just the kind of new, forward-thinking approach that we desperately need if we are to more effectively combat cancer," Bert Vogelstein, director of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins University and cancer genomics researcher said in a statement, calling it "weaponised bacteria".
The next step for the team will be minimising the bacteria's chance of mutation, so they keep working effectively after being deployed inside a tumour.
The researchers say another possible use for self-destructing bacteria could be delivering drugs that require "periodic dosing, such as diabetes and high blood pressure".