Beating bowel cancer together

Unlocking the power of a single cell to improve bowel cancer treatment

Our research network member, Pete Wheatstone, has a vast range of experience providing input and influencing bowel cancer research projects as a patient representative. This is a really important part of the research process, ensuring it focuses on issues most important for people affected by bowel cancer. In this blog Pete tells us about an exciting new piece of research he is involved with. 

The multi-million pound international research project, funded by Cancer Research UK and based at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London and various research institutions in Italy, aims to harness new laboratory techniques to make them suitable for routine use in the clinic. It will help clinicians be much more informed about which treatment option is likely to be most successful for each bowel cancer patient before it is given to that patient.

Pete has been involved in this project from the outset, inputting into the grant application to make sure the patient perspective was properly considered and making sure information about the research is available in a way that’s appropriate for a non-scientific audience.

Setting the scene

Pete describes how "a cancer is made up of millions upon millions of cells, some or all of which may be cancerous. These cells and their features continuously change as the cancer grows. And they can differ, even within the same tumour". Comparing bowel cancer cells from individual patients reveals further differences still. This can mean that some cancers will grow faster than others and not everyone will respond to treatments in exactly the same way.

Advances in research mean we’re moving away from a ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment and finding new ways to tailor treatment for each individual patient. Being better able to predict how well an individual patient will respond to a treatment is crucial. And that’s what this research sets out to do.

To provide a bit of background to the project, Pete explains "in 2018, scientists and clinicians from The Institute of Cancer Research and Royal Marsden Hospital in London showed they could grow cancers ‘in a dish’ in the laboratory."

"These cancers are grown from small samples taken from patients with advanced bowel cancer. As well as having the same characteristics as the cancers growing inside a patient’s body, importantly they react in a similar way to chemotherapy."

Tailoring treatment

Focusing on changes to individual cells can provide a much richer understanding of the differences between the complex cancer cells that make up bowel cancers. The researchers hope to take their initial learnings from their previous research to the next level as part of this project, growing 3D tumour cells to help develop the technology further and make more personalised decisions about treatment for bowel cancer patients. Personalised treatments mean that patients get the therapy that has the greatest chance of success for them. The treatment is tailored to the changes and features found in their own cancer cells. 

Pete explains that "They want to be able to test how individual cells from the laboratory grown tumour cells react to different chemotherapy drugs in order to tailor chemotherapy more specifically to each patient before it is given to the patient."

"Also, by continuing to grow other small samples from the same tumour they also hope to be able to predict how that patient’s cancer could evolve in the future and, therefore, how to successfully treat the patient if the cancer were to return in the future."

"Using this approach may mean clinicians will be able to help decide which treatment is likely to be most successful for each individual patient. A key aim of the project is to develop the technology to be able to deliver these more accurate results in a similar time to that taken now to decide current treatments." 

The role of a patient rep

Pete will be representing the patient viewpoint throughout the lifetime of the five year project (alongside Zorana Maravic, another patient representative from EuropaColon). He’ll be working closely with the researchers to write blogs and other articles to spread the word about the research, networking and building contacts across Europe and beyond and making plans to talk about the findings of the research in the future. Pete hopes to be able to update us with more information as the research progresses.













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