SBU Bio Report: Researchers Discover Non-Invasive Way to Detect Cancer

Student journalists in Richard and Anne Lee's Fall 2016 JMC 410, Journalists' Workshop, interview students in Johanna Schwingel's Fall 2016 BIO 321, General Microbiology, course. Credits: Richard Lee

ST. BONAVENTURE, NY – Researchers discovered a method of diagnosing secondary liver metastasis through a non-invasive strategy involving orally admitted probiotics followed by a urine sample.

Metastasis, which is the spreading and growth of cells from a tumor, accounts for about 90 percent of all deaths in cancer patients, according to Nikhil Gowda, a senior microbiology major who reviewed the scholarly article “Programmable Probiotics for Detection of Cancer in Urine” for Dr. Joanna Schwingle’s class.

The article, written by Tal Danino, Arthur Prindle, Gabriel A. Kwong, Mathew Skalak, Howard Li, Kaitlin Allen, Jeff Hasty, and Sangeeta H. Bhatia, was published by Science Translational Medicine in May 2015.

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The purpose of this study was to find a simple, cost effective way to diagnose cancer, Gowda said.

“Compared to biopsies now, this method is much less intrusive, expensive and does not take as much time to evaluate,” he noted.

Gowda said the diagnosis is measurable with a response in one day by evaluating the fluorescence of one’s urine sample.

“E. coli is one of the many bacteria known to grow in mass quantities in areas where a tumor exists,” Gowda said. “Because previous research has shown us this fact, the researchers discovered that in swallowing a probiotic, a urine sample would give off a fluorescence as a response to the E. coli on the tumor if it is cancerous.”

Gowda said he researched this new diagnostic method because of its link to microbiology.

“I think there are many benefits to microbiology,” said Gowda. “And it’s extremely useful to have this quick method of diagnosis in order to begin cancer treatment.”

Gowda had few critiques about the study.

“This entire study was all done on mice,” said Gowda. “If we really want to know if this research is effective, it needs to be done on humans. I’d also suggest there be a definitive scale of fluorescence to compare the urine sample too as a way to determine what stage the cancer is.”

Although he said he feels more research needs to follow this study, Gowda was impressed that researchers discovered the ability to measure the fluorescence in urine to determine whether or not someone has cancer.

“If researchers keep discovering less intrusive and more effective ways to diagnose cancer, we can begin reaching a world where fewer people are dying of cancer because it progressed too far before diagnosis,” he said.

Editors' note: This article is part of a series of scientific research reports written for the general public by student journalists in Richard and Anne Lee's Fall 2016 JMC 410, Journalists' Workshop, course in cooperation with students in Johanna Schwingel's Fall 2016 BIO 321, General Microbiology, course. 

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