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Research could predict how bowel cancer patients react to chemo

Scientists at the RSCI and Beaumont Hospital develop a method that could avert chemotherapy if it won’t work.

Image: Chemotherapy photo via Shutterstock

DUBLIN-BASED SCIENTISTS have developed a new technique which could help doctors predict how patients suffering from bowel cancer may respond to chemotherapy.

The breakthrough, made by researchers from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in collaboration with Beaumont Hospital, may help to identify patients whose conditions will not be helped by undergoing chemotherapy.

It is hoped that the study could help patients to avoid unnecessary treatment which can bring about difficult side effects, as well as allowing doctors to focus on other forms of treatment without the possible delay of first putting their patient through chemo.

The system involves measuring the discreet amount of drugs needed to kill a cancerous cell without harming healthy issue around it.

Traditional chemotheraputic systems involve exposing cells to radiation in order to bring them into ‘apoptosis’, a ‘pre-programmed’ state similar to death. In some cases, however, mutations in the cells and changes in protein levels disable this process, rendering the treatment ineffective.

“Our study has enabled us to predict which patients are likely to be resistant to chemotherapy by examining how certain proteins in their cancer cells interact,” said Professor Jochen Prehn, director of the Centre for Systems Medicine at RSCI.

He added:

We hope that the clinical decision-making tool that we have designed will enable doctors to develop personalised therapies for patients to ensure the best outcomes and potentially avoiding unnecessary chemotherapy and the negative side effects that go with it.

Details of the development – carried out by a team of 15 researchers and staff at RSCI, Beaumont Hospital and a children’s research hospital in Tennessee – are published in the current issue of the ‘Cancer Research’ journal.

Prehn said the technique could be used in clinical trials, so that cancer drugs could be devised specifically with chemo-resistant patients in mind – and that the technique could potentially be applied to other cancers in future.

Bowel (or ‘colorectal’) cancer is second only to lung cancer as the most common type of cancer in Ireland, with 2,271 cases diagnosed in 2009. The condition is slightly more prevalent in men.

Read: Beacon Hospital wins award for delivering pioneering cancer treatment

More: 1 in 3 women in Ireland smoke – report

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Gavan Reilly

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