Bowel cancer develops from normal cells in the large intestine. Cancer invades neighbouring normal tissues and can spread to other organs in distant areas of the body. At each stage, cancer cells compete with their neighbouring non-cancer cells for survival.

The winner of this cell competition (cancer cells or neighbouring non-cancer cells) determines whether the tumour develops. Mechanisms that encourage cancer cells to lose this competition can potentially stop the cancer in its tracks and are therefore a promising target for future cancer therapies.

How will cell competition in bowel cancer be studied?

This research will investigate the role of a particular protein, EphB6 which is found on the surface of cells. It has been shown to be altered in bowel cancer and is also associated with less aggressive cancers and better prognosis for cancer patients. The team therefore believe that EphB6 may be a factor that encourages cancer cells to become losers and could therefore be important in future cancer therapy associated with competition between cancer and non-cancer cells.

The research team

The project is being led by Professor Graeme Murray from the School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition at the University of Aberdeen.

Why study cell competition in bowel cancer?

Developing a better understanding of the mechanisms behind the progression of bowel cancer will help us to better treat it and increase survival rates.

The tumour “microenvironment” comprising cancer and non-cancer cells has been shown to be key to how bowel cancer develops, and these findings open the way to new therapies designed specifically to work within this microenvironment.