A Brighton researcher has won half a million pounds funding to test whether one of the world’s biggest cancer killers is caused by stomach bugs.
Dr Brian Jones, senior lecturer in microbiology at the University of Brighton, will study a possible link between bowel cancer and bacteria in the gut.
Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide and it is estimated that, in Britain alone, more than 100 new cases are diagnosed daily.
In England and Wales the cancer is the second most common cancer in women and the third most common in men.
Dr Jones, from the university’s Centre for Biomedical and Health Sciences Research, said: “Diet and in particular a high fat intake, has been consistently linked to the risk of developing the cancer but the underlying mechanisms which lead to genetic damage and cancer are poorly understood.”
He said: “Studies aimed at preventing bowel cancer by changing people’s diet have produced variable results, and have shown us that we need a better understanding of how diet influences disease risk.
“Gut bacteria are likely to be an important piece in this puzzle, and their interaction with bile acids in particular may be involved in bowel cancer.”
Bile acids are produced by the body to help it digest the fat contained in food.
They are converted to different forms by the gut bacteria and scientists believe some of these altered bile acids may be carcinogenic and activate genes thought to be important in the development of bowel cancer.
The £485,000 New Investigator Research grant from the Medical Research Council will allow Dr Jones and his team to spend the next three years investigating growing evidence that the activity of bacteria in the gut, particularly their impact on bile acids, can play a crucial role in the development of bowel cancer.
The Brighton researchers will compare the gut bacteria of individuals with cancer and those who are healthy and will look at the effect of these bacteria on specific human genes known to be connected to the cancer.
Dr Jones said: “It is vital for us to understand the causes of bowel cancer so that we can develop effective treatments or identify ways in which the disease can be prevented altogether.”
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