freelance journalist, print journalist, online journalist, copywriter, content editor, freelance editor, health and lifestyle, blogger Bowel cancer: are bacteria the key? | Christine Morgan - Journalist
+44 (0)7931 342850

I know I can be somewhat less than enthusiastic about some of the things researchers spend thousands of pounds of research grant money on sometimes – well, come on, you’ve got to wonder whether that money could often be better spent, haven’t you? But I’ve just come across an interesting story about a new research project that sounds highly worthwhile. So I thought I’d share.

The research involves looking into whether or not bowel cancer has any links with gut bacteria and it is being carried out by Dr Brian Jones, a senior lecturer in microbiology at the University of Brighton. Dr Jones, from the university’s Centre for Biomedical and Health Sciences Research department, has won half a million pounds from the Medical Research Council to do this research, so let’s hope the results take us a step closer to understanding what causes bowel cancer (and therefore how it might be prevented and better treated).

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide, with an estimated 100 cases diagnosed every day here in the UK (in England and Wales, it’s the second most common cancer in women and the third in men). And as someone who lost a close family member to bowel cancer, I for one am going to follow Dr Jones’ progress with interest.

So what’s with the idea that bowel cancer has something to do with stomach bacteria? I’ll let Dr Jones explain: “Diet and in particular a high fat intake has been consistently linked to the risk of developing the cancer but the underlying mechanisms which lead to genetic damage and cancer are poorly understood.

“Studies aimed at preventing bowel cancer by changing people’s diet have produced variable results, and have shown us that we need a better understanding of how diet influences disease risk. Gut bacteria are likely to be an important piece in this puzzle, and their interaction with bile acids in particular may be involved in bowel cancer.”

Apparently these bile acids are produced in the body so that we can digest the fat in the food we eat. The bacteria in our guts convert the bile acids into different forms, some of which may be cancer-causing and/or activate genes that are involved in the development of bowel cancer. So Dr Jones and his team will be spending the next three years investigating the activity of bacteria in the gut, particularly the effect they have on bile acids, as well as how all that may play a part in bowel cancer.

If Dr Jones’ research shows there is a significant link between gut bacteria and bowel cancer, it could be a huge step forward. So I wish him and his team the best of luck.