Accelerating bowel cancer research
Professor Owen Sansom, Director of the CRUK Beatson Institute in Glasgow and one of the UK's leading bowel cancer researchers, talks about a £5m Cancer Research UK-funded research network he is heading up called ACRCelerate, which aims to improve outcomes for bowel cancer patients.
Why is this research network important?
For me, the reason why this research network is so important is because its main goal is to find better ways to treat bowel cancer, which is still the UK’s second biggest cancer killer.
Thanks to research carried out over a number of years in lots of different laboratories, we now know much more about this devastating disease but haven't done quite so well at turning this knowledge into new and better treatments for people with bowel cancer.
My colleagues and I hope that this project will help fill this gap and go someway towards answering one of the key research questions set out in Bowel Cancer UK's Critical Gaps paper - can we develop new treatment options with the potential to cure people of bowel cancer?
What is this research project looking at?
At the moment, the project is in the early stages but over the next five years, we are aiming to use all that we know about bowel cancer and how it behaves to develop and test new drugs to treat the disease. We will do this using cutting-edge laboratory models of bowel cancer that mirror very well what we see in patients.
This means we can find out which drugs work well (and importantly which don't) very quickly before testing them in patients in clinical trials. Bowel cancer is a very complex disease involving many different chemical signals so we will also test a lot of different types of drug that are designed to block these signals.
What does this research mean for patients?
The aim of this research is to increase our understanding of bowel cancer and how it responds to treatment. Importantly, this should lead to better treatments for bowel cancer patients. We will also be looking at opportunities to 'tailor' treatments much more to individual patients, as we now know that the genetic make-up of bowel cancer varies a lot from one person to the next, meaning that their tumours can respond quite differently to drugs.
By mimicking this situation very accurately in the laboratory, we hope to develop a whole range of different options for treating the disease rather than just one or two.
Who is involved in the project?
We already have a team of leading bowel cancer experts from the UK, Italy and Spain working on the project but we also have some new, more junior researchers joining us. The team (of around 50 in total) includes cell biologists like me as well as a range of specialists in bowel cancer, from cancer doctors and geneticists through to chemists and data analysts.
The project will be a fantastic opportunity for these cancer researchers to work together towards a common goal.
Why is it important for researchers to collaborate internationally?
Collaborating with other researchers in the UK but also internationally is a really important part of the work we do. It allows us to get input from a broad range of experts, as they each bring their own wealth of knowledge and expertise to the project. Hopefully, by working together in this way we can solve problems and move things forward much more quickly.