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Researchers to develop engineered bacteria that can help detect early signs of colorectal cancer in the human body

Cancer remains one of the most feared illnesses, often eluding detection until it’s too late.

In an effort to change this, researchers are developing a method using engineered bacteria to identify early signs of colorectal cancer within the human body, as reported by Science Alert.

The approach involves modifying microbes to serve as diagnostic tools, capitalizing on the fact that our gastrointestinal tract naturally hosts various bacteria. Scientists have long sought to leverage the innate abilities of specific strains as probiotic sensors, and it appears they may have made a breakthrough.

In this study, a team led by biologist Robert Cooper at the University of California, San Diego, employed a bacterium known as Acinetobacter baylyi. This bacterium is recognized for its capacity to gather DNA from its surroundings.

The researchers genetically modified it to target specific DNA sequences linked to colorectal cancer mutations. This modified bacterium was utilized to detect traces of DNA released by lab-cultivated colorectal cancer cells and mice with colorectal tumors.

Susan Woods, a study author, stated, “This study demonstrates how bacteria can be designed to detect specific DNA sequences to diagnose disease in hard-to-reach places.”

The mechanism is intriguing. When the bacterium encountered these DNA snippets related to cancer, it integrated them into its own genome, triggering the activation of an antibiotic resistance gene. This allowed the engineered bacteria to flourish on agar plates containing antibiotics, serving as a clear signal that cancer cells had been identified.

Biomedical scientist Woods, based at the University of Adelaide in Australia, commented, “This shows that our biosensing system can be used to catch colorectal cancer DNA within a complex ecosystem.”

The report highlights that the system’s accuracy and dependability in detecting cancer cells from stool samples will determine its clinical potential.

Early detection of colorectal cancer could significantly enhance patients’ survival rates. However, the study, as published in Science, notes that while the research is promising, it still necessitates further exploration and testing before being applicable for patients.


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