Beating bowel cancer together

Investigating ways to improve chemoradiotherapy for rectal cancer patients

Lead researcher: Dr Alex Greenhough

Location: University of the West of England

Grant award: £24,969

Dr Alex Greenhough and his collaborators (Mr. Adam Chambers and Prof Ann Williams) are investigating ways to improve how well chemoradiotherapy treatment works for patients with rectal cancer. In the future, they hope this work will mean more tailored treatment decisions can be made for each individual bowel cancer patient.

The challenge

Patients with rectal cancer are often treated with a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy (known as chemoradiotherapy) before having surgery. This can reduce the chances of the cancer coming back after surgery.

Chemoradiotherapy doesn’t always work for every patient and this is a particular problem in younger patients.  At the moment it’s not fully understood why one patient might have a better response to treatment than another. Being able to better predict how well this type of treatment might work for each patient could help doctors make more personalised decisions about treatment, reducing the likelihood of patients being given a treatment that simply won’t work for them.

The science behind the project

The researchers have already done some initial work in this area. Building on this work, they will analyse rectal cancer samples to see whether differences in the proteins that can be found in bowel cancer cells play a role in how well treatment works.

They are specifically looking at one particular receptor protein (that can send and receive signals within the cell) involved in a process called cell signalling. They will use rectal cancer cells grown in the lab to understand more about this receptor’s role in how well treatments will work. They also want to test whether removing this receptor from bowel cancer cells affects how they grow in the laboratory. They predict that removing the receptor means the treatment has a better chance of working. They also want to test whether aspirin could lower levels of this protein.

 What difference will this project make?

This research could help improve treatment decisions, so that only those patients most likely to benefit from chemoradiotherapy before surgery will be offered it. This means those who wouldn’t benefit are spared the unnecessary treatment and significant side effects.

In the longer term this research could lead to the development of new treatments and improve survival for rectal cancer patients. The research could also have benefits for other diseases, as the protein being investigated isn’t just present in rectal cancer.

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