For nearly 35 years the Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) strain, derived from Mycobacterium bovis (a slow-growing aerobic bacterium that can cause tuberculosis), has been the most effective immunotherapy used against non-invasive bladder cancer.

However, due to high risk of serious infection and lower tolerance from BCG treatment in some cancer patients, efforts have been concentrated on finding safer alternative therapies.

Just over a year ago a collaborative research group at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona directed by Professor Esther Julian, discovered the incredible effectiveness of Mycobacterium brumae (M. brumae), in triggering an immune response to reduce tumor cell growth in the bladder of mouse models.
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The research study showed that compared to BCG application, M. brumae treatment was found to prolong the survival of mice with tumor, as well as being non-pathogenic.

However, two major issues limit the effectiveness of M. brumae in the treatment of non-invasive bladder cancer.

One was the formation of cell clumps due to mycobacteria lipid-rich cell wall, which prevented them from interacting with target cells and hence restrict mycobacteria anti-tumor activity. The other problem was that live mycobacteria was required for the optimal anti-tumor effect on bladder cancer.

To circumvent these issues, the same research group has now developed a formulation using olive oil in water emulsion that prevents not only the clumping effect but also delivers viable mycobacteria to the target site.

In fact, researchers were able to demonstrate both in vitro and in vivo that the olive oil-mycobacteria suspension was superior to other oil delivery emulsions tested by exhibiting the greatest inhibition of tumor cell growth as well as stimulating the highest level of cytokines which are essential to initiating an anti-tumor immune response in the bladder.

The research also highlights the favorable physicochemical characteristics of the olive oil emulsified mycobacteria, such as a lower pH and hydrophobicity (water-repelling properties) required for the efficient interaction with the bladder wall to prevent the growth of the tumor cells.

Another important advantage of the olive oil-mycobacteria emulsion was found to be the increased attachment to the extracellular matrix protein fibronectin, previously shown to be crucial to induce an anti-tumor immune response.

Interestingly, the authors found that the olive oil-M. brumae emulsion resulted in a 100 percent survival of the mice bearing tumors not attainable with BCG treatment in vivo.

The researchers next step is now focused on finding strategies to “improve the ratio between therapeutic efficacy and adverse events for the patients,” before translating the results to a clinical setting.

Therefore, these new findings although preliminary, are very encouraging and provide further evidence on the benefits of olive oil in cancer management with the potential as a drug delivery carrier. This, in turn, unlocks a plethora of possibilities for the therapeutic application of this extraordinary healing oil.


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