Bacteria geared to oxygen-free environments can be used to target cancer tumours, scientists said today.
Anaerobic bacteria are an ideal agent for treating cancer because the majority of solid tumours contain areas of low oxygen or dead tissue.
The medical community is keen to develop gene therapies, since radiotherapy and chemotherapy are ineffective for about half of cancer sufferers.
Researcher Dr Jan Theys said that the new approach could revolutionise cancer treatment.
"For example, only about one third as many lethal DNA disruptions are caused by normal radiotherapy in low oxygen cancer cells as in high oxygen areas. This means that the cancer may not die.
"By using our gene therapy technique in combination with conventional treatments, we hope to increase the effectiveness of cancer treatments. The next step is to evaluate our technique in a phase one clinical trial of human patients."
The scientists are presenting their findings at the Society for General Microbiology's 161st Meeting at the University of Edinburgh.