Science is going to great lengths to harness the ability to detect disease before it can wreak havoc on the human body. From a cancer detecting bra, to a smartphone accessory that can detect HIV, new medical gadgets are making it easier to identify what ails us. Recently, researchers have decided to do away with the gadgetry altogether, letting bacteria do the work. These new, mutant bacteria are bioengineered to detect specific diseases, and change the color of the patient’s urine for a fast diagnosis.
The first research group published a paper in the journal, Science Translational Medicine, elucidating how researchers modified E.Coli bacteria to detect diabetes through high glucose levels in urine. The bacteria turn read when the glucose levels are above a pre-engineered threshold, giving the patient oddly colored, red urine.
A separate research group published its findings in the same journal. In this case, E.Coli was used to detect early stage markers for metastatic liver cancer. The researchers discovered that special bacteria thrive in tumor sites. In stages of cancer where tumors are too small to be reliably detected by MRI, the tumor-dwelling bacteria are still present, thereby providing diagnosticians with a new tool to detect cancers. Specifically, the scientists fed modified E.Coli to mice with liver cancer. The bacteria were designed to secrete a unique enzyme that glowed in the presence of the cancer bacteria. The glow turned out to be too faint to visibly detect, so they added a second bacteria which gives the mice red urine in the presence of the glowing bacteria. The combination was successfully able to diagnose cancers far earlier than MRI.
These studies demonstrate the potential use of “bactosensors” in medicine, which could provide less invasive and more reasonable alternatives to other detection methods. Most importantly, the engineered bacteria can detect diseases early, giving patients more precious time to treat and combat the illness.
Source: Popular Science