A group of researchers at the MIT is engineering yogurt bacteria to detect colorectal cancer and other diseases in a non-invasive and simple way.
The team, led by Sangeeta Bhatia, PhD, a professor at MIT, wants to replace the uncomfortable colonoscopies and MRIs with a cheap yogurt method, followed by a urine test, that could result in an early diagnosis of colorectal cancer.
The team is working on synthetic molecules that can be introduced into the body via yogurt, and can then interact with cancer cells, producing very specific biomarkers.
These biomarkers can then be detected through a urine test, just as it happens with a simple pregnancy test.
If this technique can move forward, it would translate into an easier, cheaper, and less painful way of detecting colorectal cancer.
Dr. Bhatia and her team had previously been working on injectable nanoparticles that could travel through the bloodstream, finding their way towards cancer cells where they would be digested into smaller particles by cancer-specific enzymes, which would be filtered by the kidneys and collected in the patient’s urine.
Now, the team is modifying the bacteria present in yogurt to produce these tumor-interacting nanoparticles, a new approach that could allow for oral delivery instead of an injectable one.
The biomarker fragments would be detected using a paper strip, a method already proven efficient in mice models of colorectal cancer and liver fibrosis.
A major aspect of this new method is the fact that is does not require special equipment, making it possible to commercialize in poor countries that do not have the necessary means for medical care, and where few people are actually screened for colorectal cancer. If early detection of this type of cancer is successful, there is a 90% chance of survival of five or more years.
In a news article from the MIT Technology Review, Samuel Sia, a professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, said, “Bhatia’s synthetic biomarkers are an interesting concept for providing easy and inexpensive cancer tests”. Prof. Sia went on to explain that even though nanoparticle injections have shown good reliability in mice models, further clinical data is necessary to prove this method can be a reliable solution for colorectal cancer diagnosis.