Award for bowel cancer research

Prof Simon Leedham

Professor Simon Leedham has received a £115,000 research award from the patient and support charity Crohn’s and Colitis UK. Leedham's work on a new way of classifying bowel cancer related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBD) was one of six innovative projects selected for the charity's 2015 Medical Research Awards to investigate possible causes of cancer that could eventually lead to new treatments. 

IBD patients with longstanding or extensive inflammation in the colon have an increased risk of developing bowel cancer (colorectal cancer). People without IBD can also develop bowel cancer – this can be referred to as ‘sporadic bowel cancer’. Research has shown that the pathway by which sporadic bowel cancer develops is different to that by which IBD-related bowel cancer develops. The pathway to sporadic cancer has been thoroughly researched, leading to a molecular classification system, and an understanding of the processes that lead to the cancer developing. This classification has helped doctors to choose the best treatment option for their patients.

However, there is still no classification for IBD-associated bowel cancer, and little is known about the processes that lead to tumour formation in IBD. To complicate matters further, patients with IBD can also develop sporadic polyps, which can be safely removed endoscopically. However, distinguishing between a sporadic and a true colitis-associated precursor can be very difficult using the current techniques available.

Leedham and his colleagues will now look into ways of doing this by examining the cells at a molecular level. The aim is to find a way of classifying the IBD-related cancer, and also look at the changes in the cells in the bowel that lead to cancer. They hope that this will help doctors and patients to find the best way of managing the precursor lesions - and the best way of removing them.