Major award could lead to better cancer treatments

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Image source: Connor Warnock, IGMM

A leading bowel cancer surgeon whose pioneering research is offering hope of finding new ways of preventing the disease is this year’s winner of the Scottish Cancer Foundation prize which recognises excellence in cancer care and prevention.

Professor Malcolm Dunlop of the MRC Human Genetics Unit, within the Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, has led research which has identified a number of genes that are implicated in the development of bowel cancer. He plans to use the £10,000 prize money to investigate new drug and nutrient approaches that may reduce the risk of bowel cancer developing.

Scotland has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world with more than 3500 cases diagnosed every year, resulting in around 1600 deaths. Finding more effective ways of responding to the disease is therefore a priority.

Professor Dunlop’s genetic research has already proved successful in detecting the disease at an early, treatable stage in hundreds of patients. By operating to remove cancer in its early stages, more serious later-stage disease can be avoided.

The aim now is to find new ways to prevent the disease, which is at least as much a priority as finding more effective treatments. The Edinburgh research has already found that vitamin D and low dose aspirin, which are both cheap and readily available, may have a beneficial role in preventing bowel cancer. The next stage will be to test if these and other potentially promising agents can halt progression of the disease.

Professor Dunlop has also played a leading role in formulating guidance used throughout the UK and further afield for the detection and surveillance of bowel cancer. In addition, the Lothian Colorectal Surgery Unit which he developed has some of the best cancer survival rates in Europe.

The Chairman of the Scottish Cancer Foundation, Professor Bob Steele, said: “The research being led by Malcolm Dunlop places Scotland in the vanguard of international efforts to combat bowel cancer. He is a very worthy recipient of our annual prize which was set up to recognise excellence in reducing the burden of cancer in Scotland.”

Professor Dunlop said: “I am delighted to be awarded the Scottish Cancer Foundation prize and the Forrest Evans Medal. I consider that the work we have been doing on a broad front over the last three decades has begun to make significant inroads into the burden of cancer in Scotland, as well as further afield. We can look forward to further exciting advances by exploiting new functional genomics technologies aligned with genome editing approaches to unravel the causes of cancer.The ultimate aim is to prevent the disease through combating the processes that are hijacked by cancer cells. The prize fund will be used to further these exciting new approaches in the lab, but with a keen surgical eye on gaining tangible benefit for people.”

The Scottish Cancer Foundation prize is supported by the Grant Simpson Trust which helps organisations involved in the “advancement of health”. The award to Professor Dunlop will be presented at the Scottish Cancer Conference being held on November 20 at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.

Press coverage of the award:

The Herald

The University of Edinburgh

 

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