The team will collect samples of cancer tissue from a unique group of patients. These people had advanced bowel cancer that had spread to other organs of the body (liver, lungs and brain) but all showed exceptional responses to treatment and subsequently have lived for many years.

How will exceptional survival in bowel cancer be studied?

The team will look at the biological mechanisms responsible for turning genes on and off, or “epigenetic marks “on the DNA of the cancer cells from these patients, and compare these marks to those found on the DNA from cancer cells of patients who did not show an exceptional response to treatment.

The comparison should offer clues as to why some patients can be cured with existing treatments, and we hope will suggest a new route for effectively treating all bowel cancers.

The research team

This project is a collaboration between Dr Christine Thirwell and Professor John Bridgewater at UCL Cancer Institute, Professor Trevor Graham at Barts Cancer Institute and Dr Rodriguez-Justo at UCLH.

Why develop a better understanding of survival in advanced bowel cancer?

Stage IV (advanced) bowel cancer brings very poor prognosis. There are approximately 9000 new cases of late stage bowel cancer in the UK each year, representing over a fifth of all new diagnoses. More than half of these patients die within one year of their diagnosis, and their five-year survival is less than 10%.

There is an urgent need to improve treatment effectiveness for this group of people with an ultimate ambition to improve treatment and survival rates for all bowel cancer patients.

The study will perform basic research into events at the molecular level that contribute to exceptional treatment response and associated exceptional survivorship in patients with advanced bowel cancer patients.