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Engineered commensal microbes for diet-mediated colorectal-cancer chemoprevention

An Author Correction to this article was published on 16 June 2020

This article has been updated


Chemoprevention—the use of medication to prevent cancer—can be augmented by the consumption of produce enriched with natural metabolites. However, chemopreventive metabolites are typically inactive and have low bioavailability and poor host absorption. Here, we show that engineered commensal microbes can prevent carcinogenesis and promote the regression of colorectal cancer through a cruciferous vegetable diet. The engineered commensal Escherichia coli bound specifically to the heparan sulphate proteoglycan on colorectal cancer cells and secreted the enzyme myrosinase to transform host-ingested glucosinolates—natural components of cruciferous vegetables—to sulphoraphane, an organic small molecule with known anticancer activity. The engineered microbes coupled with glucosinolates resulted in >95% proliferation inhibition of murine, human and colorectal adenocarcinoma cell lines in vitro. We also show that murine models of colorectal carcinoma fed with the engineered microbes and the cruciferous vegetable diet displayed significant tumour regression and reduced tumour occurrence.

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Fig. 1: Eda-I1-HlpA for adenocarcinoma clearance.
Fig. 2: Screening for glucosinolate-converting myrosinase enzymes.
Fig. 3: In vitro screening for HlpA binding specificity.
Fig. 4: In vitro anticancer activity of engineered microbes.
Fig. 5: Treatment of induced CRC in a murine model.
Fig. 6: Post-treatment colorectal tissue analysis.

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  • 16 June 2020

    An amendment to this paper has been published and can be accessed via a link at the top of the paper.


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We thank P. Han for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) of Singapore (112 177 0040), Synthetic Biology Initiative of the National University of Singapore (DPRT/943/09/14), Summit Research Program of the National University Health System (NUHSRO/2016/053/SRP/05) and US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (HDTRA1-13-0037). We recognize the administrative contributions of C. Chang, I. Y. Hwang, H. L. Pham, B. E. D. Buenaflor, S. J. David and A. Seok Ting to the pre-clinical study.

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C.L.H., A.K. and M.W.C. designed the study. C.L.H. performed the experiments. C.L.H., H.Q.T., K.H.L. and K.L.L. conducted the animal model experiments. C.L.H. and K.J.C. contributed to the microscopic images. C.L.H., J.P.T., W.S.Y., Y.S.L. and M.W.C. analysed the data. C.L.H. and M.W.C. wrote the manuscript. M.W.C. supervised the project. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Matthew Wook Chang.

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Ho, C.L., Tan, H.Q., Chua, K.J. et al. Engineered commensal microbes for diet-mediated colorectal-cancer chemoprevention. Nat Biomed Eng 2, 27–37 (2018).

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