Problem addressed, background and strategic significance

A significant proportion of patients diagnosed with a rectal (final segment of the large intestine) cancer will present with a tumour that is unlikely to be completely removed with surgery alone. Many of these patients will be offered chemotherapy and radiotherapy prior to surgery. There is currently no reliable way to accurately predict which of these patients will respond to treatment, i.e. which cancers will shrink or completely disappear, or which will continue to grow despite treatment.

Method used

We will use a technology called Mass Spectrometry Imaging (DESI-MSI) to build a chemical ‘fingerprint’ of both rectal cancer tissue and blood samples from patients undergoing treatment for rectal cancer. Data obtained will be validated against current gold standards such as CT, MRI scanning and microscopic analysis of the tissue at both biopsy and surgery.

Hoped for results of this research

We hope to begin to identify a specific chemical signature that corresponds to cancers that are unlikely to respond to chemotherapy and radiotherapy given prior to surgery. We hope that this will lead towards a more personalised, precision-based approach to cancer treatment, and to determine in advance which patients will best respond to the treatments available for rectal cancer

How will this project help build on the BDRF Delphi Research Strategy and what further plans are proposed for future development?

This work will aim to both add to current understanding of rectal cancer and to develop biomarkers which will help guide next-generation personalised treatments.