Dr Lesley Stark and her team have been awarded a grant of over £160,000 from the charity to investigate how non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) act against bowel cancer in order to identify new drugs that could play a role in preventing this disease.
Each year around 36,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with bowel cancer and over 16,000 people die from the disease, making it the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK.
More than 3,500 new cases of bowel cancer are diagnosed each year in Scotland. Although treatment is generally very successful if the disease is caught early, it is often diagnosed at a later stage, when it is more difficult to treat and more than 1,500 people die from the disease each year in Scotland.
In previous studies, also partly funded by Cancer Research UK, the University of Edinburgh team found that in bowel cancer cells treated with aspirin and similar NSAID drugs, a protein called RelA is moved into a specific part of the cell nucleus, the control centre of the cell. This causes the cells to self-destruct. Dr Stark and her team are now trying to understand more about how this process works.
There is a lot of evidence that aspirin and other NSAIDs may prevent bowel cancer but the side effects associated with taking these drugs means they cannot be used for long-term cancer prevention. However, Dr Stark hopes to develop new drugs that mimic the effect of aspirin on cancer cells, and hopes that these may be used for bowel cancer prevention in the future.
Dr Lesley Stark said: "The ultimate aim of the study is to identify means other than NSAIDs that prevent bowel cancer in a similar way to aspirin.
"We are trying to understand what is causing the cell to die when RelA enters the nucleus. This mechanism of action of NSAIDs is still unclear. Understanding how NSAIDs act against bowel cancer gives us the chance to identify other drugs that have a similar preventative effect."
Currently drugs are not routinely used for preventing bowel cancer, although the launch of a national screening programme Scotland will help to identify the disease at an early stage.
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Source: Cancer Research UK