The Reporter
Issue 491, 16 June 2003
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Harnessing the best to fight bowel cancer


Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin are known to prevent bowel cancer, but long term use also causes potentially fatal peptic ulcers. Dr Mark Hull, a clinician and researcher at St James's University Hospital, has been awarded £850,000 to find ways of harnessing the positive effects of these medicines, while avoiding the bad.

Mark Hull
Shining a light on the causes of cancer -Mark Hull at the endoscopy unit at St James's University Hospital

One known link between anti-inflammatories and bowel cancer is the enzyme COX-2, one of several enzymes which are blocked by drugs such as aspirin. COX-2 is also found in swollen joints, and new anti-arthritis drugs can target this one enzyme to reduce inflammation and also reduce ulcer complications. But recent trials have shown that the new drugs do not have the same anti-cancer properties as ordinary aspirin, showing there must be another piece to the jigsaw puzzle.

"Aspirin is a fairly 'dirty' drug in that it has several effects on the body," said Dr Hull. "We’re not sure which of its many actions help prevent cancer, but only by finding exactly how it works will we identify new, more specific treatments."

Dr Hull’s research is looking at what else in the body is affected by non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, to identify other potential links with bowel cancer, which would open up new possibilities for anti-cancer treatments. The work has been funded by the medical research council.

In addition to his research, Dr Hull works as a clinician in the endoscopy unit at St James's, where he's been running a clinical trial on the effectiveness of one of the new anti-arthritis drugs in slowing down the progression of established bowel cancer. The results are due to be published in September.


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