Tuesday 23rd October 2018

Bowel Cancer West funds Genetics Research at The University of Exeter

The study is a part of a series of projects the charity is aiming to fund in 2018 after reaching its goal to contribute £20,000 towards Genetics lead research.

Improved diagnostics for earlier diagnosis, new medical devices, new drugs and treatments, faster clinical trials, and hopefully new cures are some of the expected outcomes form genetics research and the very reason we challenged ourselves to to support ground-breaking projects in this field across projects being run in the South West.

The Rectal Cancer Epigenetics Study:

The human genome is the entirety of our DNA which makes us unique. It is made up of 3 billion pieces of code or ‘bases’. These 4 bases ‘A’, ‘T’, ‘C’ and ‘G’ are usually completely stable throughout our lives being passed from cell to cell. However, throughout our lifetime through the process of ageing, environmental factors such as diet and smoking, marks or epigenetic changes are made on DNA that alters whether a gene is turned ‘ON’ or ‘OFF’. Some genes can be turned ON that predispose to cancer (oncogenes) or turned OFF that reduce the risk of cancer formation (tumour suppressor genes). If these 3 billion pieces of code in our DNA are likened to a musical score sheet, DNA are the notes. Epigenetics are the marks on the notes that tell the musician to play the note louder or softer for example.

In this research by taking blood from patients with rectal cancer and comparing it with healthy individuals, we have identified epigenetic (methylation) changes that are present in genes associated with cancer pathways only in patients with rectal cancer. This helps us better understand the changes that occur in rectal cancer and may lead to the development of biomarkers (these are tests that can identify disease processes from samples (e.g. blood) and also have applications as screening tests or to monitor the effects of treatment). We may also gain valuable insights into which patients are better served by different treatments e.g. chemoradiotherapy, surgery and prognosis.

Mr McDermott said:

“I wish to thank Bowel Cancer West and their fundraisers for this very generous grant which has allowed us to perform genetic studies on rectal cancer. If it wasn’t for this grant, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to establish the initial results required to inform the planning of bigger studies and significantly boost our chances for further grant applications. The impact local charities like BCW can have is absolutely vital to this research.”

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