Dr Lennard Lee (Colon cancer)

Dr Lennard Lee - 2016 Trainee Research Award
Dr Lennard Lee – 2016 Trainee Research Award

Institution: University of Oxford

Title: Colon Cancer Metastasis – identifying patients at risk to developed personalised therapies

Project Start Date: 10 October 2016

Completion Date: 9 October 2017


Colon cancer is the third largest cause of death from cancer in the UK with 41,000 people diagnosed each year. The majority of patients have localized cancer in whom surgical removal is the best form of treatment. However, following successful surgery, between 20-50% of patients will develop cancer that recurs. At present, it is not currently possible to predict who is at risk. When the cancer recurs/metastasises, patients are generally considered incurable.

We believe that it would be possible to identify patients at risk by identifying occult metastatic cancer cells. These are cells that are undetectable using current clinical tests, but which may be identified using ultra deep next generation DNA sequencing.

If we can show this technique is successful, this could lead to further research into treatments to prevent cancer recurrence for patients following surgery.

The work will be performed at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Genetics at the University of Oxford and supervised by Professor Ian Tomlinson.

We will take samples from 50 patients who have undergone surgery for their colon cancer. We will analyse the samples using ultra deep next generation sequencing to detect occult metastatic cancer cells. After this, we will see if this method is able to identify patients with increased risk. The project will begin in 10/10/16 and the main work will be completed in 12 months. A final report will be completed by November 2017.

Although this project is unlikely to have immediate clinical benefits it will increase risk stratification of patients with colon cancer and the tools at our disposal for fighting it.  Success will be decided in a number of ways, including publications, development of further research and a much increased understanding of colon cancer.

I am extremely grateful for Guts UK charity for being so generous in helping fund this research project. Bowel cancer is the third largest cause of cancer death in the UK with 41,000 cases diagnosed each year. Unfortunately, at present, it is difficult to predict who will respond to treatment and who may have poor outcomes. This project is a novel opportunity to understand if we can use new nucleic-acid sequencing technology to identify patients at risk with the ultimate aim of one day being able to tailor treatments to those who need it most.

Dr Lennard Lee