What’s in a colon? New project ExHiBITT publishes first results

13th February 2020 – Paz Garcia

Even healthy people have abnormalities in their colon, according to the first results of new study ExHiBITT published today.

Researchers found that 28% of participants had polyps in the colon, which are small tumours on the surface of the colon lining that are typically detected in about a third of all colonoscopies. Researchers and doctors are interested in colonic polyps as in some cases they can lead to bowel cancer.

The colon is the last part of the digestive system and is a key location where microbes process any remaining solid waste before it is passed out as stool.

The aim of ExHiBITT – which stands for Exploring Host microBIome inTeractions in Twins – is to understand how our bodies interact with the billions of microbes in our colons.

The study was led by the Department of Twin Research in collaboration with researchers from Experimental Immunobiology from King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

What did they find?

Over 200 healthy identical twins from TwinsUK took part in the study. The participants completed health questionnaires and provided samples including saliva, blood, stool and four colon biopsies obtained through a colonoscopy.

The researchers found that 28% of participants had polyps in their colon and 26% had previously undiagnosed diverticulosis, which is where small pockets form in the colon wall. People who have diverticulosis often do not feel any symptoms and the condition does not lead to cancer.

Participants with higher age and weight for their height (BMI) had a greater number of polyps, and if one twin in a pair had polyps, the chance of the other twin having polyps was 42%.

What’s next?

The team are now planning to study in closer detail the microbes identified in the samples to understand how it may influence our health. This includes analysing each participant’s metabolism and that of their microbes, as well as sequencing the microbes’ DNA. The researchers will use this information to create a rich database that will be available for other researchers to use, so that more health research can take place using the data generated by ExHiBITT.

Lead researcher Dr Marina Mora-Ortiz said:

“These findings are just the beginning and we’re now getting started on the next stage of analysing the collected samples. We’d like to say a huge thank you to our twins for taking part in this study, especially considering it involved a colonoscopy! We are always humbled by the contribution our selfless volunteers are willing to make to support medical research.”

Introducting ExHiBITT – Exploring Host microBIome inTeractions in Twins -, a colon multiomic cohort study (2020) Mora-Ortiz et al., Wellcome Open Research.

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