Research published in the Cell Host & Microbe medical journal by two independent studies (from Harvard University and Case Western Reserve University) both drew similar conclusions that the presence of a particular form of bacteria in the mouth can promote the development of cancerous growths in the colon and bowel.
Fusobacteria is a type of microscopic organism commonly found in the human mouth. However, whilst they have been linked to colorectal cancer in the past, these are the first studies to directly link them to tumour growth. According to the US studies, the presence of Fusobacteria in the mouth can trigger a chain reaction in the human body which causes cancer growth genes to grow excessively.
The studies showed that Fusobacteria have the potential to travel through the body’s blood vessels until they arrive in the intestinal tract and colon. A team of researchers at Harvard Medical School recognised that the high presence of these bacteria in benign tumours located in the colon may point towards their involvement in the growth of the tumours themselves.
The research team then went on to carry out tests in mice, revealing that the Fusobacteria were responsible for accelerating the growth of colorectal tumours – initially benign, but which can become cancerous over time – by causing an inflammatory reaction in the immune cells in the colon.
Their study also showed that the surface of the Fusobacteria was home to a particular type of molecule, known as FadA, which enabled the Fusobacteria to attach themselves and invade human colorectal cancer cells. This same molecule is responsible for the overactive growth of cancer genes, which can lead to the production of tumours, both benign and dangerous.
Speaking on behalf of the Harvard research team, lead author of the study Dr Wendy Garrett, said: “Fusobacteria may provide not only a new way to group or describe colon cancers but also, more importantly, a new perspective on how to target pathways to halt tumour growth and spread.”
The team’s findings are certainly shocking, but research by a second team, located at Case Western University, have gleaned results which suggest that there may be hope of a cure for these types of cancer, with the possibility of eradicating the link between Fusobacteria and colorectal cancer.
After discovering FadA in 2011, a research team led by Dr. Yiping Han, a professor of periodontics at Case Western, went on to design a synthetic compound capable of blocking FadA completely, thus preventing Fusobacteria from invading colorectal cells. The team hopes to acquire a patent on the compound, and believe that it may be a precursor to further potential treatments for both colon cancer and oral diseases.
Dr. Han said of the results: “We have proven there is an infectious component to colorectal cancer. We have shown that FadA is a marker that can be used for the early diagnosis of colorectal cancer and identified potential therapeutic targets to treat or prevent this common and debilitating disease.”
If the team’s patent is successful, the next step will be to develop methods of targeting people who are at higher risk of developing colorectal cancer, in order to minimise or eradicate the effects of Fusobacteria and FadA on the bowel and colon.
Sources include BBC and Medical Daily
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