Glow-in-the-Dark Poop to Shed Light on Colon Cancer

Neon feces could prove to be a game changer in gastrointestinal cancer testing. Researchers at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, are developing a new non-invasive stool exam to identify the presence of colorectal cancer.

Neon feces could prove to be a game changer in gastrointestinal cancer testing. Researchers at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, are developing a new non-invasive stool exam to identify the presence of colorectal cancer.

Through the Innovation grant from the Canadian Cancer Society, Yingfu Li, PhD, and Bruno Salena, MD, are using fluorescent DNAzymes as they investigate patients’ stool samples for cancer markers. Essentially, if cancer is detected, the molecules will glow, leading to early treatment and better outcomes for patients.

According to Canadian Cancer Statistics 2014, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths for men in Canada, behind lung cancer, and the third leading cause of death among women, behind lung and breast cancer. Nonetheless, if caught earlier on, colorectal cancer is 90% treatable.

While relaxing on a golf course, the two experts discovered their shared interest in early disease detection. Salena said, “We got talking about fluorescent enzymes and the possibilities for early detection of cancer and I got quite excited. I looked at Dr. Li’s data and I loved it. I thought this is something new we can try.”

According to a news release, the researchers are creating a DNA pool of nearly “quadrillion” different DNA sequences. They hope to identify the DNAzymes that can glow in the stool samples of the diagnosed colorectal cancer patient, but can, otherwise, stay muted in the samples from unaffected patients.

Salena commented, “We’re really going to do our best to make this happen.” Studies of 30 colorectal cancer patients’ stools are already underway, with a panel of molecules estimated to be ready for observation by next summer. If successful, their work could potentially lead to a monumental break through.

According to Li, “If we could offer a simpler test, you’d get more people receptive to this type of screening.” The noninvasive and relatively inexpensive diagnostic tool could trump the uncomfortable stigma patients have toward colonoscopies, thereby encouraging more people to willingly get tested earlier. Experts suggest the possibility of using it to test urine for bladder and kidney cancers.