Could This Bacteria Be the Cause of Colon Cancer?

A lot of time and money has been spent searching for the cure of many diseases, especially for cancer and its many subsets, which plagues the body and affects millions of people worldwide every year. While a lot of conscious moves have been done to understand and eventually prevent these diseases, even now there still hasn’t been any apparent success. However, scientists have recently found two bacteria that might be the key towards resolving colon cancer.

The study in question was spearheaded by Dr Stacy Sears, an infectious disease specialist at the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute. Initially, their colleagues were researching a toxin found in a particular strain of the Bacteroides fragilis (B.fragilis) virus, which commonly causes diarrhoea, but what they found was more than they bargained for.

When tested in mice, the scientists realised that B.fragilis could activate precancerous cells in the body and allow them to grow into their more dangerous counterparts fully and can, in turn, give rise to colon cancer when the mice started developing the disease within a short period of time.

 

The discovery led Dr Sears, and her team take a more in-depth look at B.fragilis’ toxin and how it affects the body. For that, they gathered two groups of patients, those that had no risk of colon cancer but developed it anyway and those that suffered from familial adenomatous polyposis or F.A.P, a rare genetic disease that leads towards colon cancer.

For the project, scientists had to take a look at the levels of polyps that developed in the patient’s bodies. Polyps are benign growths of colon cells that can eventually develop into cancer cells, even though most people don’t grow them. However, people that have F.A.P can have their colons littered with polyps and growths, so much so that doctors have to remove the colon from their patient to get rid of them.

With that in mind, Dr Sears and her team studied six different types of colons from F.A.P and discovered sheets of bacteria that had invaded the mucus covering their bowels, usually called a biofilm. The biofilms were made up of two types of bacteria: the B.fragilis mentioned above and a strain of E.coli or Escherichia coli.

E.coli project generates new detection, control methods as Rodney Moxley, veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences, launched the STEC research project in 2011 with a $25 million grant from USDA-NIFA. May 31, 2017. Photo by Craig Chandler / University Communication

Scientist theorised that these two bacteria worked together in ripping through the mucus barrier that protects the colon. Once they do this, E. coli proceeds to release toxins that damage DNA cells in the colon. B. fragilis, on the other hand, produces a type of poison that destroys the colon and inflames the cells.

Once they noticed these two bacteria, Dr Sears’ team started carrying out more tests. First, they looked into how familiar they were among the patients they picked out, only to realise that while both can be pretty common, not everyone has them.

To test out their effectiveness in increasing the spread of cancer cells, scientists injected mice with the bacteria. What they saw was that when invaded by them their levels of polyps increased exponentially. The results varied however when they injected them with only one of the two.

Of course, it still can’t be said as a fact that these two bacteria are solely responsible for colon cancer, after all, even their presence doesn’t mean that most people will develop it. It’s also not the first new bacteria to be linked to cancer growth, so more tests are yet to be made. In the meanwhile, the best prevention is to maintain good gut health and a healthy lifestyle.


Photo Credits: Shutterstock and University Communication

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