More than one third of bowel cancer tumours contain areas in which there are low oxygen levels. These areas make the cancer difficult to treat and patients with these tumour characteristics less likely to respond well to treatment.

The researchers that we are funding have pinpointed a protein which they believe may be needed by tumours to grow in areas of low oxygen. They aim to confirm that this protein does contribute to poor treatment response in tumours. If they can do this, they will be able to open up another possible route for drug development to target this protein.

The research team

The project is being led by Dr Alan McIntyre at the Division of Cancer and Stem Cells at Nottingham University. 

Why target areas of low oxygen?

More than one third of colorectal tumours contain areas that have low oxygen levels because the blood vessels that supply them are poorly formed. These areas are resistant to chemotherapy and radiotherapy because it is difficult to get the treatment right into the tumour. In addition, some drugs that are used to treat bowel cancer interfere with blood vessel growth and therefore reduce oxygen levels within the tumour even further.

Areas of low oxygen within tumours correspond with a poorer prognosis for patients. The team’s early findings indicate that they have identified a protein which bowel tumours need in order to grow and survive particularly in areas of low oxygen.

The team aims to show that targeting this protein increases bowel tumour death and discover why. From here they hope to identify and confirm a new drug target for bowel cancer that will kill tumour cells that are resistant to current therapies.

They also intend to show that this protein can be a new marker to identify patients will respond less well to treatment and so provide evidence that patients with this marker should be given access to the most aggressive treatments.