Industry News: New research could revolutionize how bowel cancer is treated

15 Feb 2024


New research led by a team of scientists from Queen’s University Belfast and the Cancer Research UK (CRUK) Scotland Institute in Glasgow have made a series of new discoveries into tumor biology that may be used to deliver a more effective personalized medicine approach for patients with bowel (colorectal) cancer.

Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with around 42,900 new bowel cancer cases and around 16,600 bowel cancer deaths in the UK every year, a statistic that highlights the need for new ways to treat patients with this aggressive disease.

The new study, funded by Cancer Research UK, and published in Nature Genetics, used a unique and innovative approach developed in Belfast, to identify a set of previously unseen molecular patterns in tumor tissue that provides new information related to treatment response and risk of disease progression.

These remarkable results mean that clinicians and scientists can now draw more information from a patient’s tumor tissue which may lead to better treatment options.

Previously, the most common approach for identifying groups of tumors based on their biological signaling, known as molecular subtyping, used information about how active individual genes are within tumor tissue. The subtypes identified using this method have shaped understanding of cancer development, progression and response to therapy over the last decade and served as the basis for numerous clinical trials and pre-clinical studies.

Given the potential value of this new pathway approach, researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, the CRUK Scotland Institute, University of Zurich, University of Oxford, alongside a multinational collaborative group, proposed a new data-driven method for the reclassification of bowel cancer, which has been published in this new study.

By assembling genes into biological pathways prior to the development of molecular subtypes, the team rearranged tumors into a series of new groups, based on activity across a complex network of cancer-related signaling; all of which appears to be critical in predicting how well a tumor will respond to different treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

To ensure that scientists and clinicians around the world can immediately access these data and test this new subtyping approach, the team have released a freely available classification tool that allows the Belfast-developed approach to be used on tumor samples in any research lab.

The team are now applying their new subtyping approach on tumor samples derived from clinical trials run in the UK, to build the essential clinical evidence needed before the new method can be used to make clinical decisions about which treatments a patient should be offered.

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