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Studying the stem cells involved in the start of bowel cancer

  • Researcher: Dr Simon Leedham
  • Institution: University of Oxford, Oxford, England
  • Award Amount: £239.219 for 3 years from 1st February
  • Cancer Type: Bowel Cancer
Studying the stem cells involved in the start of bowel cancer
Stem cells are the engine room of a tissue - unique starter cells with the potential to develop into a whole host of new cell types. The stem cells in the gut work hard, because the normal intestine replaces it's entire cell lining every 5-7 days. Strict control over these stem cells is therefore vital and is provided by chemical messages secreted by cells surrounding the stem cell. If this control is lost in the bowel, new growths such as colonic polyps and cancers can arise.

Dr Leedham explains “It has long been believed that the accumulation of mutations in the DNA of the stem cell itself was the sole cause of this loss of control. However, we have shown that misregulation of the chemical messages can also cause aberrant stem cell activity. It can even induce other cells to behave like stem cells. We believe that it is this alternative mechanism that is responsible for tumour development in some types of polyps and cancers which may explain differences in the way some cancers behave, including their response to treatments.

In this project a whole team of clinicians and scientists are testing this hypothesis using biological mouse models to mimic the changes seen in early tumour formation. We believe this work will allow us to explore the complex and fascinating relationship between a cancer cell and its surrounding environment and lead to a better understanding of tumour development and growth. It may also help determine whether measuring pathway disruption may predict a patient's risk of cancer and highlight potential target areas for anti-cancer treatment.”
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