MIT Professor Currently Cultivating Yogurt That Can Sense Colorectal Cancer

Christina Drill
October 17, 2014

Would you rather 1) get a colonoscopy or 2) eat a spoonful of yogurt and pee in a cup? Yogurt and pee in the same sentence is not the greatest sounding combinations of words for sure, but when you think about it, who would choose the former over the latter? Ever?

A professor from MIT by the name of Sangeeta Bhatia is looking to certain cancer-cultures in yogurt to see if they could replace the painful, costly colonoscopies and MRIs hospitals use to check for colon and rectal cancer.

Bhatia's plan is this-- based on previous work she has done developing nanoparticles that find their way to tumors, she is developing modified yogurt cultures that can be broken down by enzymes that are produced by the cancer. These essentially act as "biomarkers" which will be able to tell doctors whether or not there is a tumor growing inside of a person.

The goal behind this is transform cancer diagnoses around the world, especially in poor countries where there is not enough equipment or technology to regularly screen patients for hard-to-reach cancers. Bhatia is working towards forming a company to further commercialize this approach, though this may be difficult since it could easily wipe out companies who make money producing and selling colonoscopy equipment.

Bhatia's test has worked successfully after being demonstrated in mice-- after developing a paper-based urine test, much like a pregnancy test, it has been used on mice to effectively detect colorectal cancer and liver fibrosis.

Because colorectal cancer is slow growing, 90 percent of people survive for at least five more years if their cancer is detected early. However, so few people actually get screened for it, which is a big part of the problem. Only 40 percent of people get diagnosed early enough for a longer survival rate. Bhatia's foresight is fully capable of changing that.

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