Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland Coláiste Ríoga na Máinleá in Éirinn

RCSI wins prestigious tripartite €5.1 million award as part of global project to tackle colorectal cancer

23 October 2017

RCSI has been successful in a €5.1m tripartite grant award to tackle colorectal cancer. The prestigious US-Ireland partnership award provides a unique opportunity to bring together leading researchers from GE Research in the US, RCSI and Queen’s University Belfast in an interdisciplinary programme of research to develop new approaches to diagnose and treat the deadly disease.

Using Cell DIVE, the state-of-the-art technology developed by GE Research, the RCSI Centre for Systems Medicine in collaboration with Prof. Deborah McNamara and Prof. Elaine Kay from the Departments of Surgery and Pathology at RCSI and Beaumont Hospital and cancer researchers at Queen’s University will comprehensively characterise the gene and protein interactions inside colorectal cancer cells and use this information to select or stratify patients for particular therapeutic interventions.

RCSI’s Prof. Jochen Prehn commented: “This collaborative programme of research shows how a comprehensive knowledge of the tumour, generated through an interdisciplinary tumour profiling and computational analysis approach can not only give us precise insights into the complex biology of cancer, but also allow us to develop new diagnostic and prognostic tools.”

Dr Fiona Ginty from GE Research said: “The Cell DIVE technology that we have developed allows the examination of tumour tissue samples at a level of detail that has not been possible before. Examining multiple proteins and different cell types in a single tissue sample allows us to define more clearly the biology that drives individual tumours. We are delighted to be working with researchers on the island of Ireland to apply this technology and know it will positively influence patient care.”

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide and it is predicted that the number of cases will rise to 2.4 million diagnosed per year by 2035. There are a number of treatment options available to colorectal cancer patients and a patient’s response to treatment will depend on the specific type or makeup of their cancer. As a ‘one-size-fits-all’ treatment approach does not work for all patients, a more precise understanding of what happens inside colorectal cancer cells is required. This study will involve the examination of thousands of tumour samples in a bid to develop a diagnostic test that will enable more precise treatment plans for individual patients.

Prof.Mark Lawler, Chair in Translational Genomics at Queen’s University explains: “Inside the colorectal cancer cell is like a massive series of circuits that are switched on all the time but different subsets of patients have differences in their circuitry. The Cell DIVE technology allows us to take multiple snapshots inside the colorectal cancer cell, defining a particular signature that identifies the patient’s molecular subtype. This will allow us to match the right patient to the right treatment.”

Director of Research and Innovation at RCSI, Prof. Ray Stallings, welcomed the announcement saying: “This exciting project is a great example of how the impact of RCSI’s research, focussed on translating scientific discoveries for patient benefit, can be accelerated through our collaboration with industry. This funding will enable Prof. Jochen Prehn and others in RCSI to carry out research that will lead to the development new diagnostics and treatments of the third most common cancer.”

The research could also lead to improvements in treatment for colorectal cancer, namely immunotherapy, a powerful new approach that has shown to be effective in treating a number of other cancers.

The project is funded by the US National Institutes of Health, Science Foundation Ireland/Health Research Board and the Health and Social Care Research and Development (HSC R&D) Division of the Public Health Agency Northern Ireland/Medical Research Council.

RCSI is ranked among the top 250 (top 2%) of universities worldwide in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2018). It is an international not-for-profit health sciences institution, with its headquarters in Dublin, focused on education and research to drive improvements in human health worldwide. RCSI is a signatory of the Athena SWAN Charter.