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Superbug gel: Belfast teams who are pushing back medicine's boundaries

By Victoria O'Hara

The superbug gel is just the latest scientific breakthrough from experts at Queen's University, as its reputation as a global leader for research continues to grow.

Last month a significant development in the treatment of bowel cancer was revealed. Dr Sandra van Schaeybroeck and her team discovered two genes which cause bowel cancer cells to become resistant to treatments used to fight the disease.

Currently more than 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK each year.

In June a combination therapy that could improve the lives of cystic fibrosis sufferers was discovered.

Professor Stuart Elborn, regarded as an international authority in respiratory medicine, led the pivotal studies.

In March scientists probing breast and ovarian cancer discovered that cells of women with the BRCA1 gene cannot effectively fight very high levels of oestrogen that exist in all women's breasts and ovaries. This leaves them vulnerable to DNA damage.

The discovery meant women with the BRCA1 mutation – which affects around one in 1,000 women in the UK – could be treated with drugs rather than surgery.

This summer a team also started a major global research project that should trigger the development of drugs within 10 to 15 years to treat infections caused by superbugs.

In August 2012 a major breakthrough by scientists at Queen's University could result in more effective treatments for throat and cervical cancer.

The previous October scientists identified a new technique that used gas instead of liquid to tackle superbug infections.

As well as pseudomonas, it could also tackle other superbugs. Professor Bill Graham, director of the university's Centre for Plasma Physics, said: "What we're doing is attacking it using different agents and many of them at the same time."

Three years ago a team at Queen's also discovered a new way of causing breast cancer cells to self-destruct.

The research used a minuscule gene transport system to deliver a poison directly into cancerous cells.

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