(Monday, 16 October 2023, Copenhagen, Denmark) New research has identified significant variations in the gut microbiome of individuals who developed pre-cancerous colonic lesions, suggesting a potential connection between gut bacteria and the onset of colorectal lesions and cancers.1 These findings, presented today at UEG Week 2023, open promising new avenues for enhancing the detection and prevention of colorectal cancer.1
The large-scale prospective study, involving 8208 participants, linked data from the Dutch Microbiome Project with the Dutch nationwide pathology database to identify all recorded cases of colonic biopsies from the last five decades.1
Researchers analysed the function and composition of the gut microbiomes of individuals who developed pre-cancerous colorectal lesions before faecal sampling between 2000 and 2015 (n=214), as well as those who developed lesions after faecal sampling between 2015 and 2022 (n=305).1 These groups were then compared with individuals with normal colonoscopy findings (n=202) and the general population.1 To gain a deeper insight into the gut microbiome’s role, researchers are also examining specific bacterial strains and their functions within the gut by reconstructing their genomes from metagenomic data.1
The results revealed that individuals who developed colonic lesions after faecal sampling exhibited increased diversity in their gut microbiome compared with those who did not develop lesions.1 Moreover, the composition and function of the microbiome differed among individuals with pre-existing or future lesions and varied based on the type of lesion.1
Notably, bacterial species from the family of Lachnospiraceae and the genera Roseburia and Eubacterium were linked with the future development of lesions.1
Dr Gacesa, from the University Medical Center Groningen and study lead author, commented, “While we didn’t investigate mechanisms in this study, it is known from previous research that some of the bacterial species identified may have properties that could contribute to the development of colorectal lesions. A bacterium called Bacteroides fragilis, for example, is known to produce a toxin that can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation in the gut. Prolonged inflammation is believed to be potentially genotoxic and carcinogenic, meaning it may cause genetic damage and promote cancer.”
Colorectal cancer is a significant health concern across Europe, ranking as the second most prevalent cancer and second leading cause of cancer-related death.2 It typically develops from pre-cancerous lesions within the gut, making the removal of these lesions an effective strategy for preventing colorectal cancer.1 However, existing non-invasive detection methods, such as the faecal immunochemical test, produce a high number of false positives, leading to unnecessary colonoscopies.1
Discussing the implications of the study’s findings, Dr Gacesa said, “The connection between the gut microbiome and pre-cancerous lesions has been underexplored, leaving uncertainty about whether gut bacteria can predict the future onset of colorectal cancer. Our findings suggest that the microbiome could act as a valuable tool to improve existing tests, advancing early detection methods for pre-cancerous lesions and colorectal cancer.”
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About Dr Ranko Gacesa:
Dr Gacesa began their research career at the Department of Bioinformatics at the University of Zagreb, Croatia. There, Dr Gacesa took part in the AMYLOMICS project, a large industry-academia partnership with the goal to use new technology – environmental metagenomics – to discover novel active compounds for use in biotech industry. This experience led Dr Gacesa to realise that their ambitions lay in academic science, prompting them to apply for and obtain an MRC-CASE PhD Scholarship in collaboration with the industrial partner, bioinformatics start-up SemGen Ltd. This opportunity allowed Dr Gacesa to pursue a PhD in the group of Professor Long from King’s College London (KCL) to study antioxidant-inducing natural products and translation of these into pre-clinical studies.
Post-PhD, Dr Gacesa continued their research in the Netherlands at the University Medical Centre Groningen (UMCG). Here, they designed a machine-learning tool for microbiome-based IBD diagnostics and co-led a project identifying microbiome signatures of IBD activity.
More recently, Dr Gacesa took a leadership role in The Dutch Microbiome Project, which analysed data from over 9000 individuals in the Northern Netherlands and revealed that many chronic diseases share similar dysbiotic signatures in the gut microbiome. They followed this line of research by joining the TIMID consortium – a Netherlands-wide project aimed at dissecting the links between human autoimmune diseases, microbiome, genetics, and the environment – where they co-directed a project that identified links between type-1 diabetes and the human gut microbiota. Dr Gacesa recently secured funding to initiate a project that aims to dissect microbiome-host interactions in human inflammatory bowel disease at the site of the disease (NWO-XS 2022 project “Spatial analysis of the human host-microbiome interface in Crohn’s disease”).
Founded in 1992, United European Gastroenterology (UEG) is the leading non-profit organisation for excellence in digestive health in Europe and beyond with its headquarters in Vienna. We improve the prevention and care of digestive diseases in Europe through providing top tier education, supporting research and advancing clinical standards. As Europe’s home for multidisciplinary gastroenterology, we unite over 50,000 engaged professionals from national and specialist societies, individual digestive health experts and related scientists from all fields. With our innovative online platform, the ‘myUEG Community’, we enable digestive health professionals from across the globe to connect and benefit from a plethora of outstanding free resources and educational activities. Our offers include UEG Week, our annual congress, online and face-to-face educational experiences, research support, a scientific journal and a range of opportunities in the form of fellowships and grants. We provide numerous guidelines, standards and quality improvement initiatives and campaign at the European level to ensure continued resources for research into digestive health while working closely with patient organisations.
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- Gacesa R, et al. Development of precancerous colonic lesions is associated with gut microbiota in the Dutch Microbiome Project Cohort Study. Presented at UEG Week 2023; 16 October 2023; Copenhagen, Denmark.
- European Commission. Colorectal cancer burden in EU-27. March 2021. Available at: https://ecis.jrc.ec.europa.eu/pdf/Colorectal_cancer_factsheet-Mar_2021.pdf (Accessed: September 2023).