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Bacteroides, aspirin and bowel cancer

A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Close date
Friday, 23 February 2018
Academic background
Sciences, Health Sciences
Host campus
On-campus or via distance?
Surgery (UOC)
Dr Jacqui Keenan, Professor Mark Hampton


The increased risk of colorectal cancer (CRC) as a result of colonic carriage of certain bacterial species is a rapidly expanding area of research. Our discovery that the presence of enterotoxigenic strains of Bacteroides fragilis in the colonic mucosa increases risk of development pre-cancerous lesions adds weight to the hypothesis that the expression in situ of bacterial toxins that cause inflammation and/or DNA damage is likely to increase the risk of carcinogenesis in infected individuals. If so, these and other toxin-producing strains of gut bacteria potentially provide a target for early intervention to reduce this risk.

Orally-administered antibiotics will not selectively eradicate gut bacteria, which leaves inflammation, DNA damage and/or individual gut bacteria and their toxins as potential targets. Aspirin is known to reduce the formation of polyps in the bowel, suggesting that at least some of this drug’s effect occurs early in carcinogenesis. Three potentially carcinogenic pathways are activated by the B. fragilis toxin and the first aim of this project is to determine whether aspirin added to cultures can abrogate these toxin-mediated changes. A second aim is to establish whether aspirin also has a direct effect on B. fragilis growth and/or toxin production. This project will involve bacterial and cell culture, and the use of molecular and protein-based (western blotting and immunofluorescence microscopy) assays to assess the direct and indirect effects of aspirin on these bacteria.

Preferred student expertise

Cell biology

Further information

This project is one of the many available for the 2018 intake of BBiomedSc(Hons) at the University of Otago, Christchurch campus.


Dr Jacqui Keenan
Tel   64 3 364 0570