MIT professor Sangeeta Bhatia has developed a new cancer diagnostic tool that could someday replace colonoscopies. Photo: MIT News Office/Lemelson-MIT Program.
MIT professor Sangeeta Bhatia has developed a new cancer diagnostic tool that could someday replace colonoscopies. Photo: MIT News Office/Lemelson-MIT Program.

An MIT professor has developed a yogurt that could make testing for colon cancer easier, cheaper, and more comfortable.

Sangeeta Bhatia SM ’93, PhD ’97, the John J. and Dorothy Wilson Professor of Health Sciences and Technology, believes probiotics, a benign type of bacteria, can be effectively used to diagnose cancer.

“We’ve been looking at engineering probiotics so they can enter the body and be cancer-diagnostic or cancer-therapeutic,” she said in a recent interview with NBC.

Bhatia’s yogurt contains nanoparticles that can identify tumors within the digestive system.
Cancer cells produce enzymes that break down these nanoparticles, enabling them to be processed by the kidneys. The particles can then be detected in urine, using a paper test similar to a pregnancy test.

Approximately one in 20 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime. If diagnosed early, 90% will survive for at least five years. However, current methods of detecting colon cancer, such as colonoscopies, are expensive and uncomfortable, contributing to only 40% of people being diagnosed early. Further, Bhatia’s test is inexpensive and could vastly improve cancer screening in the developing world, where 70% of all cancer deaths occur.

Bhatia is also a professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and winner of this year’s Lemelson-MIT prize.

Read more about Bhatia’s work at Bostinno. More about Bhatia’s research, including a short video produced by NOVA Science Now, can be found at NBC.com.

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