Engineered bacteria and broccoli can help keep colorectal cancer away: NUS researchers

Engineered bacteria and broccoli can help keep colorectal cancer away: NUS researchers

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SINGAPORE: Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have succeeded in concocting a cocktail of broccoli and bacteria that can seek out and destroy colorectal cancer cells.

The study done by the team from Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine led by Dr Ho Chun Loong was published online in the current issue of Nature Biomedical Engineering on Wednesday (Jan 10).

According to the Singapore Cancer Society, it is estimated that 50 per cent of colorectal cancer patients have no known risk factors. It is the top cancer in men and second-most common cancer in women in Singapore.

The probiotic that forms the crux of the cancer-targeting treatment is engineered from E. coli Nissle, a harmless bacteria found in the gut. It is able to attach to the surface of colorectal cancer cells and secrete an enzyme that converts a substance found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli into an anti-cancer agent.

The researchers found that the mixture of probiotics and a broccoli extract, or water containing broccoli substance, killed more than 95 per cent of colorectal cancer cells in a dish. In mice, the probiotic-veggie combination reduced colorectal cancer tumours by 75 per cent. Compared to rodents not given the mixture, their tumours were three times smaller.

However, the concoction had no effect on other types of cancer, including breast and stomach cancers.

Dr Ho, along with Associate Professor Matthew Chang and colorectal cancer specialist Dr Yong Wei Peng from National University Hospital, hope that the discovery can be developed into a preventive drug as well as one that can target the remaining cancer cells after the surgical removal of tumours.

“One exciting aspect of our strategy is that it just capitalises on our lifestyle, potentially transforming our normal diet into a sustainable, low-cost therapeutic regimen. We hope that our strategy can be a useful complement to current cancer therapies,” said Assoc Prof Chang.

Source: CNA/bk