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Bowel cancer

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness Month. Our researchers are working to deliver real benefits for people with bowel cancer (also known as colorectal cancer).

We are conducting studies to explore the underlying causes of the diseases and creating tests to predict how it will develop and respond to treatment. We are also seeking to discover new approaches to treatment that can overcome the central challenge of cancer evolution and drug resistance. 

Recent research  More about our work 

Read the latest updates on our bowel cancer research


Research overview


Various research teams at the ICR are working to uncover new genetic factors that can help cause bowel cancer.

For example, one of our teams found a new genetic mutation that causes higher levels of activity of the gene ETV1, driving development of bowel cancer. 

We have also developed a new test that makes use of genetic ‘barcoding’ technology and can separate bowel cancer into five different diseases that could each receive tailored treatment. 

Matching treatments to patients

Our researchers aim to give individual patients the best treatments according to the genetic profile of their cancer.

The ICR’s Professor Nicola Valeri and his team have developed a new technique to grow ‘mini tumours’ which could help predict which treatments will work for people with bowel cancer. The idea is that each patient could have their own mini tumour grown in the lab and various drugs tested against it, with the aim of developing a personalised treatment plan.

The team have also developed blood tests, or ‘liquid biopsies’, to pick out people whose tumours are unlikely to respond to specific drugs. Liquid biopsies can help predict bowel cancer’s next move, opening up the possibility of using them for personalised, adaptive treatment.

Overcoming drug resistance

Researchers at the ICR are also working to target and overcome drug resistance, with the aim of finding new, more effective treatment strategies.

For example, our researchers experiment with targeted drug combinations that could keep cancers at bay for longer. Recently, a team combined three different drugs to successfully block the emergence of resistance in bowel cancers.

ICR researchers also found that some bowel cancers that are resistant to treatment could be re-sensitised using drugs that reduce inflammation, such as bromodomain inhibitors.