Researchers at OU Medicine studying possible link between bacteria, colon cancer

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OKLAHOMA CITY - It's a goal we all long to see reached: a cure for cancer. But, what if that, in some cases, boiled down to bacteria?

Right now, researchers at OU Medicine are looking into a possible link between colon cancer and bacteria that could trigger it.

OU Medicine received a $2.3 million grant for the study, for the potential of preventing colon cancer with probiotics. They're hoping the research being done in Oklahoma will help save lives.

"If we can understand how these cancers develop, then we're better able to develop novel, new strategies by which to prevent it," said Dr. Mark M. Huycke, M.D., who is leading the study with a grant awarded by the National Cancer Institute.

Huycke was one of the first to research the link between colon cancer and bacteria in the intestine. Their belief is that there are specific characteristics of some bacteria that can cause DNA damage in cells, developing them into cancer cells.

Now, Huycke's zeroed in on a specific bacteria for his research.

"The goal would be that, if we understand how some kind of bacteria promote cancer, we might be able to identify other bacteria that can help prevent that development," he said.

Because screenings don't always work and the most common type of screening, a colonoscopy, is uncomfortable, Huycke said working toward a new method of prevention is important.

While research at OU is focused on colon cancer, researchers in other parts of the world are looking at bacteria that could play a role in other forms of the deadly disease.

"I think it's very important to understand the mechanisms by which our bacteria might promote disease like cancer so that we can develop ways to try to minimize the risk or block those effects," Huycke said.

The research is partially supported by the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, along with the grant from the National Cancer Institute.

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