Beating bowel cancer together

Investigating how the gut environment affects bowel cancer in younger people

Lead Researcher: Professor Mohammad Ilyas

Location: University of Nottingham

Grant award: £148,570

Bowel cancers in younger people may grow more quickly than in people aged over 50. Professor Mohammad Ilyas from University of Nottingham, in collaboration with colleagues from the Universities of Leeds, Birmingham and Edinburgh, will compare samples of bowel cancer from younger people with samples from people aged over 50 to understand if there are differences that might affect how quickly a tumour grows.

The challenge

Bowel cancer is more common in people over 50, but around 2,500 younger people are diagnosed with the disease each year.  We know that changes to genes can cause some bowel cancers in younger people, but for most cases, it is not clear why the disease develops.  Researchers believe that bowel cancers may also grow more quickly in younger people but we don’t yet understand what might be causing this.  It is thought  there may be differences in bowel cancers in younger people compared to those over 50 that might explain this faster growth.  

The science behind the project

Bowel cancer is made up of lots of different types of cell including  both tumour cells and healthy cells (such as immune system cells or blood vessel cells). These non-tumour cells live in a community alongside the tumour cells  and are collectively referred to as the “tumour microenvironment”.  This research will investigate whether some of the healthy cells in the tumour microenvironment could be influencing how quickly the tumour cells grow.

Professor Ilyas and his colleagues will be using artificial intelligence alongside cutting-edge laboratory techniques to study the tumour microenvironment.  They want to look at the make-up of the cells in bowel cancers from younger people and compare those with cancers from older people to see if there are differences.

What difference will this project make?

This work will help us to understand more about what causes bowel cancer in younger people.  It will also give information about how the cancer grows and develops.  The team hope this could be used to predict how well patients will respond to different treatments, helping clinicians to ensure patients receive tailored treatment that has the greatest chance of success.

In the longer term, the data generated in this project could be used to develop new and more effective, treatments for this group of patients.


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