In what researchers are describing as a “gamechanger”, a study from the University of Otago may have identified a type of bacteria that may cause bowel cancer. In most people, Bacteroides fragilis helps with digestion and the general health of our colon, but in some people it produces a
toxin that disrupts the cells that line the gut, which can trigger the start of cancer. Researchers tracked the progress of 150 people who’d undergone
a colonoscopy, and genetically analysed samples of the bowel taken during the procedure to see if the bacteria was present. Between 12 and 15 years after the initial colonoscopy, almost 80 per cent of patients with the toxic bacteria in their gut had developed low-grade dysplasia, a type of pre-cancer. Professor Frank Frizelle, who led
the research team, says with further research, the findings could be used to screen people with the bug for bowel cancer, and in time, it’s hoped it could lead to a vaccine.