Scientists awarded £1.5m for bowel cancer research

Cancer Research UK has awarded the University of Birmingham £1.5m to fund a five year research programme aimed at finding new treatments for bowel cancer.

The University of Birmingham reports that the pioneering research, the first of its kind in the UK, will see scientists taking samples of two hundred patients’ bowel cancer in order to grow avatars, or mini tumours, in the laboratory.

The avatars will then be exposed to over over two thousand drugs and treatments, some of which have never been previously tested. Using genomic sequencing, scientists will also test the avatars to establish whether certain genes can make individuals predisposed to bowel cancer and whether these genes can be modified to reduce a person’s risk to the disease.

Dr Andrew Beggs, of the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences at the University of Birmingham, said “This is exciting and pioneering research, made possible thanks to this generous award from Cancer Research UK.”

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and effects around thirty thousand people a year, however only 60 to 70% of people survive so therefore there is a desperate need to develop new treatments and improve existing ones.

By growing mini tumour models or avatars of bowel cancer, the researchers can use them to test whether specific treatments work on bowel cancer with the hope that they can identify new treatments and ultimately save more lives.

The researchers also hope to gain a better understanding as to why some patient’s cancers are sensitive to radiotherapy and chemotherapy and, importantly, while others are not. This will help them better select patients who are likely to benefit from chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

The award has enabled the Universityof Birmingham to recruit six scientists dedicated to this research in a new laboratory at its Institute for Biomedical Research.

Dr Karen Noble, head of research careers at Cancer Research UK, said “We’re pleased to support the exciting work being done by Dr Beggs and his team, in particular their innovative approach to finding new treatments for bowel cancer. Clinical research is essential to find new and more effective ways to tackle cancer. Our Advanced Clinician Scientist Fellowship Award allows us to harness talented clinical minds to turn the most promising scientific discoveries into new treatments for patients.”

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