Fat in Feces Provides Noninvasive Method for Early Detection Colon Cancer

A newly identified metabolic fingerprint of colorectal cancer may serve as a future diagnostic tool in early detection.

Technology found in airport sensor devices combined with ultra performance liquid chromatography was able to identify the metabolic fingerprint for colon cancer, which could become a diagnostic tool for early detection.

Ion mobility-mass spectrometry (IMMS) has the ability to simultaneously measure hundreds of metabolites such as amino acids, enzymes, fats, and glucose. For the study, published in the Journal of Proteome Research, scientists coupled IMMS with ultraperformance liquid chromatography to identify metabolic products from normal colon tissue in humans and mice.

Colon cancer tissue samples were taken from humans and research mice that had polyps in their colons that mimicked those in humans. The normal profile was then compared to that found in the samples.

In both cases, the results of the study showed that colon cancer caused significant changes in fat metabolism, particularly for fatty acids and lipids. The abnormalities created a molecular fingerprint that was similar in humans and mice, according to the study.

Researchers then examined transgenic and control mice droppings to see if the molecular fingerprint could be found in feces as well. This proved to be true when IMMS demonstrated its ability to detect a large proportion of the same metabolic abnormalities seen in the previous study and was able to clearly distinguish between mice with colorectal cancer and those that were healthy.

“The feces was not exactly the same as the tissue samples, but it had a lot of similarities to the tissue,” said researcher Herbert Hill. “We found the lipids and fatty acids were changing — and there were also changes in the amino acids.”

More specifically, lysophospholipids were found to dramatically change.

“These types of lipids are known to be important in the development of cancer and are particularly tied to colorectal cancer,” said researcher Michael Williams.

The findings suggest that the identification of the metabolic fingerprint could potential be used as a new diagnostic tool for the early detection of colorectal cancer in a clinical setting.

“The benefit of early detection is that we can catch cancer before it metastasizes to other parts of the body,” Williams said. “Our results represent the zero stage of cancer, the polyp stage — as early as colon cancer can be detected.”

Authors noted that they are encouraged by the study results but that more work needs to be done.

“The exciting part is being able to see differences in the stool,” Hill said. “This could lead to a non-invasive, more comprehensive early-warning detection method for colorectal cancer, but a lot of research needs to be done before it can be actually realized.”

If projected is funded, their next step is to evaluate human stool samples to see if the molecular fingerprint is present in colorectal cancer patients. Fortunately, the lab equipment needed to run these diagnostic tests is already commercially available.