Close up of researcher working with samples in a lab

Research projects

Detecting new targets to treat bowel cancer

Dr Pietro Pichierri
Project period
Aug 2024 - Jul 2027
Research Institute
Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS)
Cancer types
Bowel cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Dr Pichierri and his team want to find a new targeted treatment for bowel cancer. By shining a light on Werner Syndrome and discovering more about how it can lead to bowel cancer, the researchers hope to reveal new potential targets.

Hope for the future

Bowel cancer is the worlds’ third most common cancer despite recent improvements in screening and treatment. In 2022, an estimated 1.9 million people worldwide were diagnosed with bowel cancer. This innovative project funded by Curestarters hopes to find a new cure for this devastating disease.

Werner Syndrome is a rare genetic condition that increases the risk of bowel cancer, but not much is known about how it does so. Dr Pichierri is an expert on Werner Syndrome and he has been studying its links to cancer. He recently had the brilliant idea that by better understanding the genetic mutation that causes Werner Syndrome could uncover new therapeutic targets for bowel cancer.


Waist-up photo of Dr Pichierri wearing a lab coat, in his lab

Meet the scientist

Out of the lab, Pietro enjoys relaxing with his family. Of course, being Italian he is convinced that the best food is Italian and he loves pizza and spaghetti, especially with fish.

The science

In our DNA we have a gene called WRN, which makes proteins that are involved in important processes including repairing damaged DNA. Repairing DNA is a crucial process for our bodies to stay healthy, as damaged DNA is one of the causes of cancer.

It is this WRN gene that is affected in Werner syndrome - mutations in this gene lead to faulty WRN proteins being produced, which disrupts these important cellular processes. These particular mutations are also associated with genetic instability in bowel cancer, which makes WRN a promising target for cancer treatment.

Previous research has shown that the WRN protein works by interacting with several other proteins through different biological pathways, which Dr Pichierri and his team will now explore. In particular, WRN interacts with a protein called “Replication protein A” or RPA, which is vital for DNA repair and replication. The team aim to better understand the significance of how these proteins co-operate, and what that could mean for bowel cancer development.

The team in Italy will collaborate with partners in the UK and the USA to find potential therapeutic targets related to WRN. They hope that this international collaboration will lead to new treatments for bowel cancer that work through the targets they discover.

Waist-up photo of Dr Pichierri wearing a lab coat, in his lab Dr Pietro Pichierri
We would like to express our deep gratitude for your engagement in the support of Worldwide Cancer Research, and of research on cancer in general. Thank you, grazie mille di cuore!

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