An international research team from Adelaide and the United States has made a significant breakthrough in bowel cancer detection by utilizing a probiotic bacteria, Escherichia coli Nissle (EcN), which is already used for treating gut disorders. Published in Nature Communications, the study was led by Associate Professor Susan Woods, Dr. Dan Worthley, and Ph.D. candidate Georgette Radford from SAHMRI and the University of Adelaide, in collaboration with Associate Professor Tal Danino at Columbia University.
The research focused on the unique characteristics of the EcN strain, first isolated from a German soldier’s gut in 1917. This strain, known for blocking and fighting harmful bacteria, has a long history of safe use in humans. The researchers discovered that EcN prefers to reside in tumors when present in the gut, actively seeking them out.
The study demonstrated that after oral dosing, EcN selectively lives in both benign precursor lesions to bowel cancer (polyps) and bowel cancers. The team engineered the bacteria to release molecules that illuminate early cancers. This method could potentially enable early, non-invasive cancer diagnosis. Once the bacteria locate a tumor, they release a marker detectable in urine, indicating the presence of cancer. Future goals include detecting this marker through a blood test.
Additionally, the research team is optimistic about manipulating the bacteria to deliver therapeutic treatment directly to the tumor site. This approach could offer a new treatment option for early cancers while significantly reducing the side effects associated with conventional drug therapies. The tumor-homing capability of these probiotic bacteria, observed in experimental models, is also expected to occur in humans.