Could the bacteria in our gut help treat cancer?


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Leeds researchers have been awarded nearly £2.5 million to investigate how billions of microorganisms living in our bodies, called the microbiome, could be manipulated to treat bowel cancer.

The researchers are collaborating with a team of scientists from the UK, the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Spain. The team has collectively been awarded £20 million by CRUK.

The funding is one of the largest grants ever awarded by the charity and forms part of its Cancer Grand Challenges funding, which aims to revolutionise the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 12% of all new cancer cases in 2017.

Initial research suggests that a person’s microbiome – the collection of billions of microorganisms living in our bodies – may be linked to bowel cancer and their response to treatment.

There are many risk factors that influence people’s chance of developing the disease. Researchers are discovering that the impact of these factors, such as diet and obesity, on the microbiome may play an important role in bowel cancer development.

The team is aiming to understand the difference between a healthy microbiome and one associated with cancer and find ways to manipulate this collection of microorganisms to better prevent and treat cancer. They will explore this through clinical trials of new interventions based on the research results.

Philip Quirke, Professor of Pathology at the University of Leeds, said: “We are really excited to be part of CRUK’s Grand Challenge. This award means that Leeds will be at the centre of some of the most exciting research into cancer going on in the world right now. Grand Challenge enables us to collaborate with international experts in other fields of research.

“Our aim is that this research project could help to revolutionise our understanding of the role the microbiome plays in cancer development. This could help find new ways to prevent and treat the disease.”

The researchers will bring their expertise in pathology to the Grand Challenge project and will study tissue samples, many of which will come from patients taking part in clinical trials at the Leeds Cancer Centre.