Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Bacteria may revolutionize cancer detection chances.

Cancer remains one of the most dreaded ailments anyone can suffer from. Often, those suffering from the disease don’t even realise it till it’s too late.

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To change this narrative, researchers, as per a report in Science Alert, are working on harnessing the capabilities of engineered bacteria. These bacteria will help scientists and doctors detect early signs of colorectal cancer in the human body.

How does that work?

The approach involves using modified microbes as diagnostic tools. Taking advantage of the fact that our gastrointestinal tract is naturally inhabited by various bacteria, scientists have for years been trying to harness the natural abilities of some specific strains, and use them as probiotic sensors. Finally, they might’ve cracked the code.

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In this study, a team of researchers led by biologist Robert Cooper at the University of California, San Diego, used a bacterium called Acinetobacter baylyi. The bacterium is known for its ability to collect DNA from its environment.

They genetically engineered it to target specific DNA sequences associated with colorectal cancer mutations. It was used to detect snippets of DNA shed from lab-grown colorectal cancer cells and mice harbouring colorectal tumours.

Diagnosing abilities

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

How it works is very fascinating. When the bacterium encountered these cancer-related DNA snippets, it incorporated them into its own genome, which in turn triggered the activation of an antibiotic resistance gene.

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This allowed the modified bacteria to grow on agar plates containing antibiotics, and provided researchers a clear signal that cancer cells had been detected.

“This shows that our biosensing system can be used to catch colorectal cancer DNA within a complex ecosystem,” says biomedical scientist Woods, who is working at the University of Adelaide in Australia.

The groundbreaking benefits

As per the report, this detection system’s sensitivity and reliability in detecting cancer cells from stool samples will help determine its potential for clinical use.

Early detection of colorectal cancer could significantly improve a patient’s survival rate. However, as per the study published in Science, while the research is promising, it still requires further exploration and testing before it could be used in patients.

(With inputs from agencies)

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About Leif Larsen

Join Leif Larsen, our science blogger extraordinaire, on a journey of discovery through the fascinating worlds of climate change, earth science, energy, environment, and space exploration. With a wealth of knowledge and a passion for exploring the mysteries of the universe, Leif delivers insightful and thought-provoking posts that offer a unique perspective on the latest developments in the world of science. Read him to unlock the secrets of the natural world, from the deepest oceans to the furthest reaches of the cosmos!

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