Sangeeta Bhatia, professor at MIT, is working to replace colonoscopies and MRIS with a helping of yogurt followed by a urine test. This would be a cheap and less invasive method that could improve the early diagnosis or colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer occurs in the colon or rectum. If detected early, 90% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer survive for at least 5 years. Unfortunately only 40% of people are diagnosed early. According to the American Cancer Society, the inability to detect the disease early is due in part to so few people getting screened.

The yogurt will have synthetic molecules that will interact with cancer in a way that produces telltale biomarkers. The molecules can then be detected easily when passed in urine.

Bhatia has already developed nanoparticles that find their ways to tumors, and are then broken into smaller pieces by enzymes produces by the cancer. The broken up particles are small enough to be collected and concentrated by the kidneys and then excreted.

The nanoparticle work requires an injection. Bhatia is currently developing a way to deliver the nanoparticles by modifying a type of bacteria in yogurt. The bacteria produces the nanoparticle biomarkers by interacting with a tumor.

Nanoparticle injections have shown good reliability during animal testing.

The first trial of the technique involved the use of lab instruments to analyze urine and find the telltale markers. A paper-based urine test has not been developed, similar to the paper-based urine test for pregnancy.

The hope is that this new approach will transform diagnostics. This test requires no specialized equipment therefore it will be particularly useful in poor countries.

Other researchers believe that Bhatia’s synthetic biomarkers are an interesting concept for providing easy and inexpensive cancer tests. However, without data from clinical trials, this cannot be considered a solution just yet.

Gerry Oginski
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