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Understanding the links between diet and cancer

Led by Dr Lee Parry, this research group focuses on identifying how dietary components alter the behaviour of normal and cancerous stem cells.

Colorectal cancer (CRC) leads to approximately 600,000 deaths globally each year and is one of the major causes of death in the western world. In the UK it is the fourth most common cancer with around 40,000 new cases diagnosed each year (Cancer Research UK). At least half of these cases are thought to be preventable, as diet and lifestyle choices play a significant role in altering a person’s risk of developing cancer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly bowel cancer is strongly linked to dietary choices, for example a high fibre diet is associated with a lower cancer risk. However, the reasons for these links remain unknown. To gain a better understanding we need to study the intestinal stem cells that are responsible for maintaining a healthy bowel, as it is damage to these cells which can cause cancer.

However, in comparison to cancer there is little work performed on the normal bowel, partly due to the difficulty of obtaining samples from healthy people and lack of research teams capable of understanding the complete effect of diet on the bowel. Dr Parry's group is working to identify how the bacteria, immune system, epigenome and stem cells in the normal and cancerous bowel respond to different food types. The focus of the research is to improve our understanding of diet and health to provide accurate public advice and develop ways of preventing bowel cancer.

Group lead

Dr Lee Parry