Beating bowel cancer together

Improving treatment for chemotherapy resistant bowel cancer

Researcher: Miss Michelle Johnpulle 

Location: St James University Hospital, Leeds and the University of Leeds

Funding: Bowel Cancer UK/Royal College of Surgeons of England jointly-funded fellowship 

Chemotherapy is a common treatment for patients with advanced bowel cancer. Finding new ways to improve its effectiveness is crucial. Our Bowel Cancer UK/RCS Research Fellow, Michelle Johnpulle, is investigating ways to improve treatment for patients with bowel cancer that has become resistant to chemotherapy.

The challenge  

Chemotherapy drugs are used to kill cancer cells. Overtime these cells can stop responding, or become ‘resistant’ to chemotherapy, which can mean chemotherapy drugs are no longer able to destroy them. When this happens, doctors need to try and find a different treatment option. For some cancer types, special types of viruses (known as oncolytic viruses) have been shown to successfully infect and kill cancer cells, as well as encourage the body’s own immune system to destroy the cancer. At the moment there’s not enough research to show whether this type of treatment could be used to help treat patients with bowel cancer.

The science behind the project

Researchers have so far only used 2D models in the laboratory to look at how well these viruses could destroy bowel cancer cells. Miss Johnpulle’s research will use more realistic 3D models for the first time. 3D models are able to more accurately mimic how the cancer might behave and respond to treatment inside the human body. This study will test the viruses as potential treatment in three ways:

  • Using the virus alone
  • Using the virus in combination with chemotherapy
  • Using the virus as a ‘carrier’ of an extra molecule (known as a micro RNA), which, if added back to the cancer cells, could help overcome chemotherapy resistance

What difference will this project make?

Miss Johnpulle’s work is fundamental to finding ways of improving treatment options for patients with chemotherapy resistant bowel cancer. The research will provide a more detailed picture of how well these cancer killing viruses might work against bowel cancer cells, taking us one step closer to improving and ultimately saving lives of patients with advanced bowel cancer.

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