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The ultimate goal is to be able to inject therapeutic bacteria into a patient's body -- for example, as probiotics to help treat diseases of the gut or as targeted tumor treatments -- and then use ultrasound machines to hit the engineered bacteria with sound waves to generate images that reveal the locations of the microbes. The pictures would let doctors know if the treatments made it to the right place in the body and were working properly.
"We are engineering the bacterial cells so they can bounce sound waves back to us and let us know their location the way a ship or submarine scatters sonar when another ship is looking for it," says Mikhail Shapiro, assistant professor of chemical engineering, Schlinger Scholar, and Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator. "We want to be able to ask the bacteria, 'Where are you and how are you doing?' The first step is to learn to visualize and locate the cells, and the next step is to communicate with them."
Results - January - Issue - Nature - Author
The results will be published in the January 4 issue of the journal Nature. The lead author is Raymond Bourdeau, a former postdoctoral scholar in Shapiro's lab.
The idea of using bacteria as medicine is not new. Probiotics have been developed to treat conditions of the gut, such as irritable bowel disease, and some early studies have shown that bacteria can be used to target and destroy cancer cells. But visualizing these bacterial cells as well as communicating with them -- both to gather intel on what's happening in the body and give the bacteria instructions about what to do next -- is not yet possible. Imaging techniques that rely on light -- such as taking pictures of cells tagged with a "reporter gene" that codes for green fluorescent protein -- only work in tissue...
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