McMaster researchers developing colonoscopy alternative
By: Daniel Arauz
McMaster researchers are currently developing a less invasive and cost effective way of detecting early colorectal cancer – DNA enzymes that will make poop glow.
Biochemist Yingfu Li and gastroenterologist Dr. Bruno Salena proposed the idea to the Canadian Cancer Society, who have granted the pair and their research team $200,000 in funding for a two-year study.
The goal is that this test will effectively replace colonoscopies, which is currently the most accurate way of detecting colorectal cancer. Patients will simply provide a stool sample, which will be mixed with a “fluorescent signal” DNA enzyme. The stool will illuminate if the enzyme detects colorectal cancer in the sample.
This new testing method uses technologies from previously developed DNA enzymes that can detect bacteria such as C. difficile and E.coli; projects that Li has had first-hand experience in developing.
A less invasive and simpler testing process would encourage more people to get screened. When colon cancer is caught in its early stages, it is 90 per cent treatable.
Colorectal cancer is the second most prevalent cause of death in males,. and it is the third-leading cause of death among women, behind lung and breast cancer according to Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014.
“The reason we actually got this project funded is that there is a significant need for this [kind of testing],” Li said. “We have the data with other systems for bacterial detection, we provided some sort of proof of concept – people can actually see this can happen.”
Li feels that collaboration between the scientific and medical fields is far too uncommon.
“I think it’s a challenge. Everyone is busy, I run a research lab and I have a lot to do, so on a daily basis I wouldn’t think about these kind of things.” Li admitted that without that chance meeting with Salena while playing golf, the ideas and necessary samples for this project would not have been possible. “I was actually quite surprised that colorectal cancer, for men, is the second leading cause of cancer death.”
Li attributes much of the success of this project to the collaboration between the fields of science and medicine. “You need a partner before you can really succeed,” said Li. “In this case if you didn’t have biological samples, you couldn’t devise a real test for colorectal cancer patients…I think if we really want to solve a lot of medical problems, we need to get people together, one way or another.”
Photo credit: Mike Lalich/Canadian Cancer Society