Research finds possible connection between bacteria and bowel cancer

New research from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has found a possible relationship between the presence of a specific type of bacteria found in tumors and the spread of bowel cancer.

Published in the leading gastroenterology journal Gut, findings of the research can help clinicians to identify patients at risk of poorer outcomes and make decisions on treatment options for patients with bowel cancer whose tumors are infected with the bacterium Fusobacterium nucleatum.

Using genomic sequencing, researchers are now able to detect traces of an infection with bacteria or other microbes in patients’ tumors that previously would have been undetectable. The RCSI-led research set out to understand which tumors are infected with bacteria, and what the role of a bacterial infection means in terms of how the disease progresses.

The research found that a collection of bacteria that normally lives in the oral cavity infects bowel tumors, changes how tumor cells behave, and may trigger the spread of the tumor to other organs. The study suggests that there is a direct relationship between the presence of a bacteria called Fusobacterium nucleatum and the spread of bowel cancer resulting in poorer outcomes for a subset of patients.

Lead researcher, Jochen Prehn, Professor of Physiology and Director of the Centre for Systems Medicine at RCSI said: “An effective tool to help oncologists to personalize colorectal cancer treatment is urgently needed.”

This study demonstrates the role that bacteria play in the spread of bowel cancer in patients. We hope these finding will enhance diagnostics to improve the efficacy of current treatment and help further advance the use of new therapeutics for patients infected with this bacterium.”

Jochen Prehn, Professor of Physiology, Director of Centre for Systems Medicine, RCSI

According to the Irish Cancer Society, almost 3,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in Ireland each year and worldwide, bowel cancer presently accounts for approximately 10% of new cancer cases diagnosed (1.9m cases, WHO 2020).

In this collaborative study with Queens University Belfast, samples from patients from Northern Ireland and from over 600 patients from the Cancer Genome Atlas were analyzed. The Cancer Genome Atlas is an international programme that analyses the genetic mutations responsible for cancer types to help researchers and clinicians to better understand the disease and how to treat it.

The study was supported by the RCSI and the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) and funded by the Health Research Board, Science Foundation Ireland and the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy (NI DfE).

Journal reference:

Salvucci, M., et al. (2021) Patients with mesenchymal tumours and high Fusobacteriales prevalence have worse prognosis in colorectal cancer (CRC). Gut.

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Gemma Wilson

Gemma is a journalism graduate with keen interest in covering business news – specifically startups. She has as a keen eye for technologies and has predicted quite a few successful startups over the last couple of years.

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