Beating bowel cancer together

Improving treatment for chemotherapy resistant bowel cancer

Lead researcher: Miss Michelle Johnpulle

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

Grant award: £16,250

Dates: October 2018 to May 2019

Chemotherapy is a common treatment for patients with advanced bowel cancer. Finding new ways to improve its effectiveness is crucial. Our Bowel Cancer UK/Royal College of Surgeons of England Research Fellow, Michelle Johnpulle, investigated 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. Research is still being done to show whether this type of treatment could be used to help treat patients with bowel cancer.

The science behind the project

Previously, researchers had only used 2D models in the laboratory to look at how well these viruses could destroy bowel cancer cells. Miss Johnpulle’s research used 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 tested how the viruses worked in the 3D model.


Miss Johnpulle successfully created the 3D models containing various different types of cells to better mimic the real bowel. These models were more resistant to chemotherapy than the previous 2D version.

The viruses were able to infect cancer cells in the 3D model – this is important if the treatment is going to work in patients.

If you like, you can find out more about this work by reading this key research article, published by the researchers.

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 provided 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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