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April 2015 NUI Galway researcher identifies ‘off-switch’ to reduce the spread of bowel cancer
Research funded by Irish Cancer Society and led by NUI Galway wins prestigious European Association for Cancer Research Award
Irish researchers have found that switching off a specific protein in bowel cancer cells can stimulate an anti-tumour immune response which can reduce the spread of cancer to other parts of the body. The breakthrough research by Dr Aideen Ryan of NUI Galway, which was funded by the Irish Cancer Society, has been awarded the prestigious European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) Young Investigator Award. Dr Ryan works in the area of Biosciences as an Irish Cancer Society Research Fellow with the Immunology Group in REMEDI.
Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting both men and women. With approximately 2,400 new cases and almost 1,000 people dying from this cancer each year, bowel cancer represents a significant health concern in Ireland. To date, therapeutic developments to tackle the problem of bowel cancer spreading to other parts of the body have had very little success and new methods are urgently needed to improve survival for patients.
This award winning research found that the activity of a key protein known as NF-kappaB, with the help of a type of immune cell, called tumour-associated macrophages (TAMs), promotes the spread of cancer cells from the bowel to the abdominal cavity. TAMs are present within or close to tumour tissue and can act in tumour-promoting or a tumour-killing manner, depending on their surrounding environment. Dr. Ryan and colleagues in NUI Galway found that TAMs can be switched from being tumour-promoting to being tumour-killing by turning off the NF-kappaB protein in bowel cancer cells, thereby causing a significant reduction in bowel cancer spread to the abdominal cavity.
Dr Ryan said “I am delighted to have been presented the EACR Young Investigator Award for this research. Our findings have, for the first time, uncovered the effect of targeting the NF-kappaB protein in bowel cancer cells. We are continuing this important research in order to develop a new treatment approach for bowel cancer which could potentially result in better treatments for patients with this disease.”
This research adds to recent developments in bowel cancer research conducted with the support of the Irish Cancer Society whereby Irish scientists are now developing a simple and inexpensive blood test which can be used as an early detection tool for bowel cancer. Irish Cancer Society funding, provided through the Society’s Research Fellowship Programme to Dr Gregor Kijanka, Dublin City University, was instrumental in the initial development and validation of this new test.
Commenting on the research, Dr Robert O’Connor, Head of Research, Irish Cancer Society said, “We are delighted to see that the Society’s investment in bowel cancer research is generating exciting new findings which will make a difference to patients. We congratulate Dr Aideen Ryan on receiving the EACR Young Investigator Award which is testament to the significant contribution she has made to the area of bowel cancer with her ongoing research. This research, which was made possible by Irish Cancer Society research funding, opens new avenues for the development of novel treatment approaches which will hopefully benefit bowel cancer patients in Ireland.”
The announcement of Dr Ryan’s award comes as the Irish Cancer Society launches Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. The campaign is calling on men and women throughout Ireland to be aware and act on the early signs and symptoms of bowel cancer. These include:
- A change in your normal bowel motion, such as diarrhoea or constipation
- Feeling you have not emptied your bowel fully after a motion
- Pain or discomfort in your abdomen (tummy) or back passage
- Trapped wind or fullness in your tummy
- Weight loss
- Tired and breathless (due to anaemia from blood loss)
- Rectal bleeding or blood in stools
- A lump in your tummy area
Dr Ryan’s research was published in Oncogene, one of the world's leading cancer journals, and Dr Ryan was awarded the European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) Young Investigator Award at the annual Irish Association for Cancer Research (IACR) conference. This award is presented to outstanding young researchers in the field of cancer research for a recent, significant contribution to the field.
Anyone who is concerned about Bowel Cancer should call the Irish Cancer Society’s National Cancer Helpline on 1800 200 700.