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Gut Microbes Shown to Detect Colorectal Cancer

Detect cancer scrabble

(Marco Verch, Flickr)

12 Sept. 2022. An analysis of gut bacteria and blood samples from patients indicates changes in the microbiome can provide early warnings for colorectal cancer. Findings by a team from Universal Diagnostics, a cancer bioinformatics company in Spain and the U.S., were presented on Saturday in a poster session at a meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology in Paris.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common form of cancer in the U.S., after skin cancers, according to American Cancer Society. The organization projects more than 106,000 new cases of colon cancer will develop in 2022, along with nearly 45,000 cases of rectal cancer. Deaths from these two types of cancer this year are expected to exceed 52,500.

American Cancer Society says overall, the rate of new colorectal cases is dropping due to increased screening and changes in lifestyles, but new cases among younger adults, those under age 50, are going up, suggesting a need for more accessible screening methods. The ESMO authors cite data showing an overall five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer of 15 percent, while patients detecting the disease in an early, localized form have a 91 percent five-year survival rate.

Gut bacteria as separate cancer indicator

Universal Diagnostics, based in Seville, Spain and Cambridge, Mass., develops tools for detection and analysis of cancer signals from high-throughput genomic sequencing, epigenetic analytics, and machine-learning algorithms with other bioinformatics techniques. The company is currently conducting a clinical trial in the U.S. enrolling 1,100 participants with newly diagnosed colorectal cancer, suspected cancerous polyps, or at high risk of colorectal cancer to provide blood samples for detecting circulating-free DNA or cfDNA in plasma indicating this type of cancer.

In the ESMO paper, researchers led by James Kinross, a lecturer in colorectal surgery at Imperial College London, investigated gut bacteria as a separate indicator of colorectal cancer. The team sequenced 48 gut tissue sample pairs from colorectal cancer patients and matching healthy patients, and associated groups of bacterial species with the presence of cancer. The researchers then confirmed their analysis with cfDNA data from eight colorectal cancer patients and 10 matching healthy individuals for comparison.

Before starting their analysis, the team identified 19 bacterial strains suspected of contributing to colorectal tumor onset and growth. The authors say they found the presence of all 19 bacteria in their tissue samples, but four types of bacteria appear in cancer patients more often when compared to healthy individuals: Akkermansia, Porphyromonas, Fusobacterium, and Parvimonas. Further analysis of cfDNA and computational models show detecting the absence or presence of these bacteria provides a true-positive sensitivity of 88 percent among the eight cancer patients, including three of four early-stage patients, and true-negative specificity of 90 percent among the 10 healthy individuals.

The company says the findings prove the concept of tracking gut bacteria for cancer detection. “As we learn more about microorganisms,” says Christian Hense, Universal Diagnostics chief operating officer in a company statement, “and how they interact in communities within our bodies to change the way we feel and function, we hope this type of data analysis will help patients get access to earlier and more sensitive screening, individualized guidance for treatment, and advanced monitoring techniques.”

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