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Targeting Tissue Stiffness to Treat Colorectal Cancer

Principal investigator:
Co-investigator(s): Martin KNIGHT
Funding source(s): Bowel & Cancer Research
 Start: 05-05-2015  /  End: 04-09-2016
Directly incurred staff: Nicholas Peake

As colon cancer develops and progresses, there are significant changes in the organisation of the web of proteins forming the structure of colon tissue. These changes cause tissue stiffening, which promotes the growth of the cancer. 

The research group at SEMS studies an enzyme called TG2 which can cause inflammation in colon cells, and once released from the cell can also link together these proteins. Bowel inflammation can lead to cancer, and the group have seen that TG2 is abundant in colon cancer tissue, but it is not known if this has an affect on the progression of disease. 

With the funding they have received, the group will examine whether the protein linking caused by this enzyme changes the organisation of the surrounding tissue, whether these changes alter how stiff the tissue becomes, and whether this makes the cancer more aggressive. 

This will open the door to new therapies that block TG2 and alter tissue stiffening. Long-term, this pilot project will support a larger study to investigate how colon cancer cells change how they respond to altered biomechanical properties of the surrounding tissue as the cancer spreads. This will be the first step in developing new drugs that target both cancer cells and the surrounding tissue.