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£5m research scheme set to offer tailored treatment to bowel cancer patients

By Victoria O'Hara

A revolutionary £5million medical research programme is aiming to create personalised treatments for bowel cancer patients in Northern Ireland.

Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, researchers at Queen's University Belfast have set out to fundamentally change how bowel cancer patients are treated by tailoring each individual's regime to fit their particular needs.

Every year in Northern Ireland, more than 400 people die from bowel cancer, but experts are hopeful that the new model will cut this number.

"This precision medicine approach can maximise the effectiveness of both existing and brand new treatments while helping to minimise side-effects and improve survival and quality of life for our patients," said Professor Mark Lawler, chairman of Translational Cancer Genomics at Queen's.

The S-CORT Consortium, jointly funded by the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK, will use state-of-the-art technology to uncover the biology of bowel cancer cells, which will be collected from more than 2,000 patients in clinical trials.

Cancer Research believes the new approach will help better predict how different patients will respond to different treatments, allowing the most effective therapies to be delivered.

The project should also help doctors decide which patients get a chemotherapy drug called oxaliplatin and which type of radiotherapy they are offered. It may also help surgeons remove as little of the bowel as possible.

Mr Lawler said the programme would boost the care provided by the NHS. He added that it would identify and use new ways to predict the patient's response to treatment based on the genetic make-up of their tumour.

Professor Patrick Johnston, Vice-Chancellor of Queen's and a principal investigator in the S-CORT Consortium, said: "This is further evidence of Queen's University leading on world-class research which will have a lasting impact around the globe."

The project head is Professor Tim Maughan, who is based at the University of Oxford. He said bowel cancer survival rates had more than doubled in the last 40 years but work remains.

"Recognising this challenge, we have brought together key partners to develop new ways to tailor treatment to the patients who will benefit the most and make a significant difference to their chances of beating this common disease," he added.

Michael Rugman (52) from south Belfast has bowel cancer which spread to his lungs, stomach and liver. He has taken part in a clinical trial and has undergone surgery and chemotherapy to prolong his life. He believes such trials and research are vital.

"I was on a trial in 2010 for chemotherapy which meant that three months of treatment would be as good as six months," he added.

"Anything that can also make the drugs more tolerable has to be welcomed, and that is what personalised treatment does.

"This action gives everyone living with that diagnosis hope."


Every year in Northern Ireland, around 1,200 people - 540 of them women - are diagnosed with bowel cancer. More than 400 people die from it every year, making it our second biggest cancer killer. Bowel cancer, which is also known as colorectal cancer or colon cancer, is defined as any cancer that affects the colon and the rectum.

I discovered bowel cancer early and took part in new project

William Edgar (34) from Kilkeel was diagnosed with stage two bowel cancer in April 2013. He had noticed some bleeding when using the toilet.

"My GP was unable to see anything but thankfully he referred me to Daisy Hill Hospital where a colonoscopy revealed a tumour, which the consultant described as the size of a watch face.

Thanks to a UK-wide initiative called the Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre, which is jointly funded in Belfast by Cancer Research UK and the Northern Ireland health department, I had the opportunity to take part in a study looking at the duration of treatment for bowel cancer - whether giving treatment for a longer time conveys benefits or causes more unnecessary side-effects. Because I acted quickly, I was diagnosed early.

Had I not done so the outcome could have been very different. I was fitted with a stoma for around seven months. I had never heard of this, so it was quite a shock. There is life after cancer - you don't need to be defined by it."

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