Engineered bacteria to detect liver cancer: New study

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LONDON: Liver cancer might be detected sooner with the aid of genetically engineered probiotics, a new study says.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) have used a harmless yet potentially beneficial strain of altered Escherichia coli bacteria to help detect cancer by colonizing tumors in mice that spread to the liver from other organs.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.

Most types of cancer tend to spread from their original place to another place in the body – thus called metastatic cancer – such as pancreatic and colon cancer, which tend to spread to the liver. The earlier these tumors in liver are detected, the higher likelihood of the success of the due treatment will be.

Reprogrammed E. coli bacteria, working as diagnostic devices, were given orally to mice with colon cancer to produce a luminescent signal that can be detected with a urine test.

The results showed that around 90 percent of metastatic tumors were colonized by the bacteria, without causing any harmful side effects, researchers noted.

It is difficult to scan the liver through conventional imaging techniques such as CT or MRI, making it hard to detect metastatic tumors in the organ. However, by using this technique, the tumors can be detected by luminescent signals that the germs produce upon entering the liver.

The study is “seminal and thought-provoking in terms of clearing a new path for investigating what can be done for early detection of cancer,” says Andrea Califano, a professor of biological sciences at Columbia University.

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