Our PhD student, Hannah Shailes, aims to pinpoint new therapies for those diagnosed with bowel cancer by conducting research into a mutation in the gene Adenomatis Polyposis Coli (APC), or APC loss.

How will the APC gene be studied?

She is using gene silencing techniques, where genes are manipulated in the laboratory to switch off. Recent studies have shown that silencing one gene within a cell makes no difference to the survival of the cell but silencing two specific genes together causes the cell to die – this is known as Synthetic Lethality. Targeting this research technique in bowel cancer may lead to new therapies.

She will use RNAi to trial combinations of more than 700 genes with APC. RNAi, or RNA interference, is a biological method used to stop a gene working – to “turn it off”. From this process she will be able to identify which, if any, combination will cause the cell to die.

Working with the National Bowel Research Centre, Hannah will work directly with tumour samples and will identify which genes correspond with better or worse prognosis for patients.

The research team

The project is being run from Barts Cancer Institute which is a Cancer Research UK Centre of Excellence. Bowel Research UK is supporting Hannah under the supervision of Dr Sarah Martin in the Department of Molecular Oncology.

Why target APC to treat bowel cancer?

Mutations in the APC gene are responsible for all forms of the inherited form of bowel cancer, Familial Adenomatis Polyposis (FAP). Although FAP accounts for less than 1% of all bowel cancers, everyone diagnosed with FAP will develop bowel cancer if they are not diagnosed and treated early in life. In addition to this the mutation is present in around 8 in 10 individuals who develop cancer sporadically.

With the exception of lung cancer, bowel cancer takes more lives than any other so anything we can learn from this mutation is of significant interest and may in time lead to new therapies being developed.