Bowel cancer discovery at Queen’s University Belfast

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Queen’s University Belfast researchers claim to have made a ‘significant breakthrough’ in potential bowel cancer treatment.

Dr Sandra van Schaeybroeck and her team of researchers have found two genes which cause the resistance of bowel cancer cells to treatments used to fight this disease.

There are currently more than 40000 bowel diagnoses that occur in the UK. The disease kills more than 16000 patients annually.

The activities of the two genes, MEK and MET, were revealed when the researchers studied the various interactions and pathways that occur in bowel cancer cells. They found that these bowel cancer cells turn on a ‘survival mechanism’ when they receive treatment targeting faulty MEK genes. Once the researchers added drugs which block the MET gene, the bowel cancer cells died.

The team is now in the process of testing a new approach which will target these two genes in the most aggressive types of bowel cancer. In excess of 50% of patients diagnosed develop an aggressive form of this disease which is non-responsive to standard treatment. The five-year survival rate in this particular group is below 5%.

The Vice-Chancellor of the university, Professor Patrick Johnson, said that understanding the genes which cause bowel cancer is the main focus of the research and the discoveries have identified a new route to clinical applications for those who suffer from the disease.

The clinical trial, named MErCuRIC, is set to commence during September and will offer personalised medication to patients in Northern Ireland and other European countries.

The trials will involve 13 clinical/research teams from nine European countries. The research received funding from Cancer Research UK and has been published in Cell Reports.

Image Credit: William Murphy

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