Royal Society honours for cancer researchers Sir Walter Bodmer and Dr Duncan Odom

In collaboration with the Press Association

Cancer Research UK scientists Sir Walter Bodmer and Dr Duncan Odom have won awards from the Royal Society, the oldest and most prestigious scientific academy in the world.

Sir Walter became Director of Research at Cancer Research UK's forerunner, the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, in 1979. He went on to be a key figure in research that aided the identification of an important bowel cancer gene called APC.

Dr Odom is based at Cancer Research UK's Cambridge Research Institute. He and his team are investigating how genes are controlled as cells become specialised - a process that is disrupted in cancer.

The Royal Society announced the winners of its awards, medals and prize lectures on Friday. These honours are given annually in recognition of the recipients' achievements in various fields of research.

Royal Medals are awarded for the most important contributions in the physical, biological and applied sciences. Sir Walter Bodmer's Royal Medal was awarded for his seminal contributions to population genetics, gene mapping and understanding of inherited genetic disease.

Sir Walter led a team of scientists that tracked down the location of bowel cancer gene APC, paving the way for its eventual identification in 1991. Families affected by hereditary bowel cancer can now be tested for faults in APC and offered preventive measure such as screening.

Studying APC and related genes has also led scientists to uncover the role of other important molecules involved in several types of cancer. This research is helping us to understand how cancer develops at a molecular level, laying the foundations for the development of future treatments.

Dr Duncan Odom has been awarded the Francis Crick Lecture prize for his pioneering work in a field known as 'comparative functional genomics'. Dr Odom studies how cells become specialised to do different jobs in the body.

Their work focuses on the way in which genetic instructions are 'read' inside the cell's control centre (the nucleus) - a process called transcription. If this process goes wrong, the cell will receive the wrong instructions, which can lead to cancer.

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "It's fantastic to see the work of our scientists recognised by the prestigious Royal Society. Over 26 years ago Walter Bodmer discovered the first bowel cancer gene, called APC.

"Thanks to this landmark discovery, members of families in which many cases of bowel cancer occur - often at a young age - can now be offered genetic tests to look for inherited faults in this gene, and potentially life-saving screening if they carry them.

"And Duncan Odom has been awarded the prize for his great work into uncovering how genes are switched on and off inside cells, and how this crucial process goes wrong in cancer. His research is helping to shed light on how normal cells become cancer cells, and could lead to innovative new ways to diagnose and treat the disease."

The Francis Crick Lecture is given annually in any field in the biological sciences, though preference is given to Crick's main areas of genetics, molecular biology and neurobiology and to fundamental theoretical work, which was the hallmark of Crick's science.

The lectureship, which is accompanied by a medal and a gift of £500, was first given in 2003.

Copyright Press Association 2013