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Urine Test for Bowel Cancer to Reveal Presence of Early Tumors

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 29 Jan 2024
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Image: It may now be possible to detect bowel cancer without a stool test (Photo courtesy of 123RF)
Image: It may now be possible to detect bowel cancer without a stool test (Photo courtesy of 123RF)

Currently, the only way to diagnose bowel cancer is through a fecal occult blood test (FOBT), which identifies invisible blood traces in stool samples. Now, researchers have made significant strides in developing an alternative, non-stool-based method for detecting bowel cancer by engineering a probiotic bacteria known for its efficacy in treating gut disorders. This new approach could enable early tumor detection via a urine test.

For their study, researchers from SAHMRI in Adelaide, Australia focused on a specific bacteria, Escherichia coli Nissle. This strain was originally isolated from the gut of a German soldier in 1917 by Alfred Nissle, a German physician. During World War I, when dysentery was widespread, Nissle identified this unique strain from the soldier who seemed immune to the illness. It was later found to combat harmful bacteria and has since been safely used in people. Interestingly, recent findings have shown that Escherichia coli Nissle has a natural propensity to inhabit tumors rather than normal tissue in the gut and actively seeks them out.

In their latest study, the team discovered that after being orally administered, these bacteria selectively reside in both benign precursor lesions to bowel cancer, known as polyps, and in bowel cancers themselves. Leveraging this bacteria's innate tendency to migrate toward tumors, the researchers modified it to emit molecules that could highlight early-stage cancers. This innovation paves the way for early, non-invasive cancer diagnosis. Upon reaching the tumor, the bacteria release a marker detectable in urine, indicating the presence of cancer. In the future, the researchers are aiming to be able to detect this marker in a blood test. The team also believes that this bacteria can be further modified to deliver targeted therapeutic treatments directly to the tumor site. This approach could offer an alternative treatment for early cancers while significantly reducing the side effects associated with current drug delivery methods.

"We were excited to see that the tumor-homing capability of these probiotic bacteria may also occur in people, just as in our experimental models,” said Dr. Dan Worthley from SAHMRI.

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