Investigating cancer-causing molecules in our environment
Professor David Phillips and his team are investigating how certain chemicals in our environment influence cancer development. They are involved in several national and international collaborations and are renowned in this field. Their research will increase our understanding of how cancer develops, and will lead to better ways of preventing several cancers, including breast and lung cancer.
Air pollution, smoking and diesel fumes
Professor Phillips' group is studying the different types of DNA damage caused by a range of environmental chemicals, including tobacco smoke and diesel fumes. These cancer-causing chemicals are known as carcinogens.
The type and extent of DNA damage can provide clues about how much of a particular chemical a person has been exposed to. In turn, this information can be used to help estimate cancer risk.
Examples of the team's work in this area include:
- Understanding whether exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution in early life can damage DNA, and if this can be used to predict cancer risk in adulthood
- Studying the role of smoking in causing DNA damage in vulval tissue and its potential as an indicator of vulval cancer risk, in association with Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- Identifying certain types of DNA damage linked to exposure to diesel exhaust fumes, and using this to predict cancer risk
Changes to cell processes
The team is also studying how certain processes inside our cells are altered following exposure to known carcinogens, and how this can contribute to cancer. They hope to understand more about the role the liver plays in activating or detoxifying carcinogens.
They are particularly interested in identifying which genes are switched on or off after exposure to a carcinogen, and how this can influence which type of cancer will develop. Increasing our understanding of these processes will lead to improved ways of preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer.
Breast cancer risk - nature or nurture?
Another aspect of Professor Phillips' research focuses specifically on breast cancer risk. The team will study cell samples from 50 pairs of identical twins, where one of each pair has had breast cancer.
He and his team aim to find out if breast cancer risk is linked to our cells' ability to repair the DNA damage caused by environmental carcinogens, and, ultimately, if this ability is inherited or not.
Reducing cancer risk
Reversing DNA damage caused by carcinogens holds promise for cancer prevention. In collaboration with researchers in the USA, Professor Phillips' team is investigating the potential of a broccoli extract. They are studying the white blood cells and mouth cells of smokers to see how the broccoli extract modifies the DNA damage caused by tobacco.
Other research projects by David Phillips
Funding period: 01 October 2012 to 30 September 2017