NUI Galway researcher wins award for breakthrough in bowel cancer

A cancer researcher at NUI Galway has clinched a prestigious award for her groundbreaking work in the area of bowel cancer.

Dr Aideen Ryan’s breakthrough research uncovered an “off-switch” which can reduce the spread of the condition, one of the most common cancers affecting men and women.

Switching off a key protein in bowel cancer cells can stimulate an anti-tumour immune response, her award winning research - which was funded by the Irish Cancer Society - revealed.

Dr Ryan, who scooped the European Association for Cancer Research Young Investigator Award, says she was delighted to have been honoured for her research.

“Our findings have, for the first time, uncovered the effect of targeting the NF-kappaB protein in bowel cancer cells. We are continuing this important research in order to develop a new treatment approach for bowel cancer which could potentially result in better treatments for patients with this disease.”

Her research found that the activity of the specific protein with the help of a type of immune cell, called tumour-associated macrophages (TAMs ), promotes the spread of cancer cells from the bowel to the abdominal cavity.

TAMs are present within or close to tumour tissue and can act in tumour-promoting or a tumour-killing manner, depending on their surrounding environment.

Dr Ryan and her colleagues at NUI Galway found that TAMs can be switched from being tumour-promoting to being tumour-killing by turning off the NF-kappaB protein in bowel cancer cells, thereby causing a significant reduction in bowel cancer spread to the abdominal cavity.

This research adds to recent developments in bowel cancer research conducted with the support of the Irish Cancer Society. Irish scientists are now developing a simple and inexpensive blood test which can be used as an early detection tool for bowel cancer. Irish Cancer Society funding, provided through the Society’s Research Fellowship Programme to Dr Gregor Kijanka, Dublin City University, was instrumental in the initial development and validation of this new test.

Commenting on the research, Dr Robert O’Connor, head of research, at the Irish Cancer Society says it is delighted that its investment in bowel cancer research is generating exciting new findings which will make a difference to patients.

“We congratulate Dr Aideen Ryan on receiving the EACR Young Investigator Award which is testament to the significant contribution she has made to the area of bowel cancer with her ongoing research. This research, which was made possible by Irish Cancer Society research funding, opens new avenues for the development of novel treatment approaches which will hopefully benefit bowel cancer patients in Ireland.”

Dr Ryan’s research was published in Oncogene1, one of the world’s leading cancer journals. She was awarded the European Association for Cancer Research Young Investigator Award at the annual Irish Association for Cancer Research conference. This award is presented to outstanding young researchers in the field of cancer research for a recent, significant contribution to the field.

Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers affecting men and women. With approximately 2,400 new cases and almost 1,000 people dying from the condition each year, bowel cancer represents a significant health concern in Ireland. To date, therapeutic developments to tackle the problem of bowel cancer spreading to other parts of the body have had very little success and new methods are urgently needed to improve survival for patients.

The announcement of Dr Ryan’s award comes as the Irish Cancer Society launches Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. The campaign is calling on men and women to be aware and act on the early signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.

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