By analyzing the types of gut bacteria present around colorectal tumors, researchers have found a way to predict key genetic mutations in the tumors themselves, a method that could eventually inform the development of colorectal cancer diagnostics and therapeutics. Their findings were presented on Friday, October 9, at the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) 2015 Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. Led by Ran Blekhman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development at the University of Minnesota and senior author on the study, the researchers examined the genetic differences between colorectal tumor cells and healthy colon cells from 44 adults with colorectal cancer. They looked for correlations between specific mutations in the tumor cells and the composition of the tumor microbiome – the types of bacteria present in the tumor’s immediate environment and their relative abundance – and found relationships between the two. “Ours was the first study to analyze both of these factors together,” said Michael B. Burns, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Blekhman’s laboratory. “Previous studies have found associations between certain mutations and colorectal cancer, and between certain microbiome characteristics and cancer, but had not integrated the two,” he explained. The researchers found that in general, the more cancer-associated mutations a person’s tumor cells had, the more varied his or her tumor microbiome was. In fact, specific mutations in tumor cells were associated with the presence of specific types of bacteria in the microbiome. Together with Dan Knights, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Biotechnology at the University of Minnesota, Dr.
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