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Understanding the link between obesity, the immune system and bowel cancer

  • Researcher: Professor Stella Knight
  • Institution: Imperial College London
  • Award Amount: £136,104 for 2 years from January 2012
  • Cancer Type: Bowel Cancer
Understanding the link between obesity, the immune system and bowel cancer
Bowel cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and around 1.24 million new cases were diagnosed around the world in 2008. There is an established link between obesity, the immune system and bowel cancer. Recent evidence has suggested that the molecule leptin, produced by fat cells, could be involved in this link between obesity and bowel cancer as its levels are higher in obese people and it is reported to encourage the growth of bowel cancer. The activity of the immune system is controlled by specific immune system cells called dendritic cells which determine whether or not the immune system responds to cancer cells. These dendritic cells also make leptin and they can carry certain types of fat around the body. Professor Knight is using her Worldwide Cancer Research grant to study a pre-cancerous condition called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) which goes on to develop into bowel cancer. It is not currently known what role leptin plays in FAP and what type of fat that the dendritic cells carry. She will therefore be investigating how obesity, leptin, fat and dendritic cells are all involved in the progression from FAP to bowel cancer. Professor Knight hopes that her results could help with the development of a therapy that could potentially prevent bowel cancer by increasing the immune system's ability to fend off the disease before the onset of cancer.
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