Spotting bowel cancers early in patients at increased risk

About 150,000 people in the UK suffer from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). People with IBD are more likely to get bowel cancer, and so patients are offered regular colonoscopy that aims to spot cancer early on, while it can still be treated.

During colonoscopy a doctor examines the inside of the bowel for signs of cancer. Colonoscopy is good at detecting cancer, but the doctor must be highly skilled, and the technique is time-consuming, expensive, and uncomfortable for the patient. Most IBD patients will never develop cancer, so unfortunately many colonoscopies are unnecessary.

Reducing the need for colonoscopies

The COVID19 pandemic also means hospitals’ capacity to perform colonoscopy is reduced, and patients might be reluctant to go into the hospital for the procedure in the first place.

This research, conducted at the Barts Cancer Institute in collaboration with St Mark’s, the UK’s specialist bowel hospital, aims to develop a revolutionary blood test that can detect early signs of cancer and monitor the severity of IBD. In the future, it could be possible to take the test at a GP surgery, or even at home. Our hope is that the test will improve quality-of-life for people with IBD, and reduce the demand for colonoscopy in hospital.

The research team

This PhD will be undertaken by Kane Smith, supervised by Professor Trevor Graham at Queen Mary University of London.

Professor Trevor Graham leads the Evolution and Cancer laboratory at the Barts Cancer Institute, QMUL. His background is in mathematics, and his work combines maths, molecular biology and evolutionary theory to measure how colorectal cancers form and respond to treatment. By understanding how cancers grow and change over time, Trevor and his team aim to enable more effective early detection of cancers and improve the effectiveness of treatment. Twitter: @trevoragraham

Kane Smith is a researcher at the Barts Cancer Institute where over the last two years he has been investigating genomic biomarkers for colitis associated colorectal cancer risk in patients with inflammatory bowel disease. He completed a BSc in genetics at Cardiff University and an MSc in regenerative medicine at QMUL, giving him a strong background in molecular biochemistry and its application to human disease. Kane is excited to undertake a PhD expanding on his current work and aims to improve early detection of cancers using non-invasive methods.