A foodborne Pathogen suitable for cancer treatment?

by Zafeiroula Katsara, MSc Student in Bioeconomy: Biotechnology and Law, International Hellenic University

Listeria monocytogenes is the species of intracellular pathogen, Gram-positive, in the division of Firmicutes. It belongs to the class of Bacilli, the order of Bacillales and the kingdom of Eubacteria. Its main advantage is that it can survive in conditions of oxygen absence. Most of the times it is a foodborne pathogen, but it can also be found in soil, water, some animals and more specifically regarding its presence in food, it could be spotted also in raw (unpasteurized) milk and its derived products, smoked seafood, raw meat, raw sprouts and soft cheese.

Listeria monocytogenes is responsible for causing the infection of Listeriosis. It uses mammalian cells as hosts by oral infection. The symptoms of the disease of Listeria involves fever, stiff neck, confusion, weakness, vomiting and other flu related symptoms. However, when affecting vulnerable groups, the presence of that disease might end up being fatal.

As Listeria monocytogenes acts as pathogen, the question that arises is how this bacterium could be useful in biotechnology application in the field of biomedicine. Is it possible that it has the prospect of curing certain deceases instead of infecting and causing diseases?

In 2010, a study contracted by van Pijkeren JP et al, showed that there is a significant potential of the contribution of a novel Lysteria monocytogenes-based DNA in cancer therapy, through invasion and spread in cancer cells (in vivo gene delivery). Same year, another study contracted by Mark Tangney et al., describes the procedure of the use of Lysteria monocytogenes as a vector for cancer gene therapy. More analytically, the bacterium is well suitable for its use to deliver DNA into target cells by playing the vector role. The researchers provided evidence that through this procedure, DNA could be transferred to tumors in vivo in mice and in breast tumor tissue.

Listeria, as many other bacteria, have the potential to grow preferentially in tumor tissue into tumor-bearing mice. By the use of biotechnology, the pathogen could now be used for the treatment of cancer and opens a new circle of studies and development in regards on bactofection permission. It is also worth saying that by the use of modern biotechnology, the application of Listeria bacterium is also being used in trail stage for the treatment of cystic fibrosis.

The positive outcome is that the system has potential for delivery of therapeutic gene systems, especially since most of cancers are epithelial in origin. Although studies currently show that L. monocytogenes works efficiently on affecting human tumors in vivo and it is being controlled by ampicillin treatment, pharmaceutical companies target to find vaccines for cancer based on L. monocytogenes strategies, however further study on safety assurance should be performed before it gets established and this road has long way to go.  Mark Tangney et al conclude their study by expressing that the biggest challenge is to select the correct mutant strain to provide a sufficient level of vector amplification in vivo in order to maintain a significant degree of reduction to ensure safety.

We are grateful to Ms Katsara for kindly providing the original article.


Radtke et al., A. (2011). Listeria monocytogenes exploits cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) to escape the phagosome.

www.nbci.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3029685/

Sciencedirect.com. (2012). Listeria – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. [online] Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/immunology-and-microbiology/listeria

Mark Tangney, Jan Peter van Pijkeren & Cormac G.M. Gahan (2010) The use of Listeriamonocytogenes as a DNA delivery vector for cancer gene therapy, Bioengineered Bugs, 1:4, 286-289, DOI: 10.4161/bbug.1.4.11725

Jan Peter van Pijkeren, David Morrissey, Ian R. Monk, Michelle Cronin, Simon Rajendran, Gerald C. O’Sullivan, Cormac G.M. Gahan, and Mark Tangney.Human Gene Therapy.Apr 2010.ahead of print http://doi.org/10.1089/hum.2009.022

En.wikipedia.org. (2019). Listeria monocytogenes. [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Listeria_monocytogenes

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (5 votes, average: 4.20 out of 5)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *