According to a story from EurekAlert!, a team of researchers affiliated with UT Southwestern were successfully able to curtail inflammation-associated colorectal cancer in mice by precisely editing the animals’ gut bacteria. These findings could one day be used to develop a similar approach to prevent cancer in patients with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, that latter of which is a rare form of IBD.
About Ulcerative Colitis
Ulcerative colitis is a long term condition which is characterized by the appearance of ulcers and generalized inflammation of the rectum and colon. The exact cause of the condition remains a mystery, but there do appear to be some risk factors, such as family history, diet, and exposure to the medication isotrentinoin. Smoking appears to have a slightly protective effect. Symptoms can include anemia, bloody diarrhea, weight loss, fever, and abdominal pain. They tend to appear in as relapsing-remitting pattern. In severe disease there is a risk of serious complications, such as megacolon or inflammatory disease in other parts of the body. The risk of colon cancer is also elevated. Treatment may include dietary changes, medication to control inflammation, and, when complications appear, surgery. To learn more about ulcerative colitis, click here.
The Gut Microbiome, Human Health, and Cancer
It is well known that people with any form of IBD have a substantially elevated risk of developing colorectal cancer, sometimes as much as seven times greater than unaffected people. This increased risk has led for recommendations for these patients to receive colonoscopy screenings more frequently.
In recent years the gut microbiome, which is the population of microorganisms (mostly bacteria) that survive in our digestive tracts, has become a considerable focus of medical research. Studies have revealed that it could play a major role in human health, and not just in the development of intestinal diseases; research suggests that it could even play a role in our mood and mental health.
Ulcerative colitis and other types of IBD are associated with imbalances in the population of the gut microbiome, which is to say that these patients have a different balance of bacterial species in comparison to a healthy person. The fact that changes to the microbiome can affect the development of cancer tumors is just the latest remarkable discovery.
While the researchers say that the technique used on the mice for modifying the bacteria would not be safe for humans, the study nevertheless can inform the development of a suitable medical approach for use in ulcerative colitis patients and others. Check out the original study here.