Dr Michael McFarlane (Bowel cancer)

Dr Michael McFarlane - 2016 Trainee Research Award Winner
Dr Michael McFarlane – 2016 Trainee Research Award Winner

Institution: University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire

Title: The use of Electronic noses in assessing volatile organic substances in the urine and stools of colorectal cancer patients, their blood relatives and individuals with whom they share dwellings

Project Start Date: September 2015

Completion Date: 31 August 2017

Bowel cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related death in Europe. 5% of cases are inherited – there is a known genetic cause which is passed from parents to children. 20% is clustered in families, without a known genetic cause. The other 75% are “sporadic”, where there is no clear inheritance pattern. Environmental factors, diet and medication may have some influence on the risk of developing bowel cancer.

Our study aims to determine the contributions of environmental and genetic factors towards the development of bowel cancer. We want to study the patterns of chemicals called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in urine and stool. These chemicals give off a characteristic pattern or “smell”, which can be detected using equipment called an Electronic nose, essentially a robotic dog nose.

We want to study the VOC patterns in samples from people diagnosed with bowel cancer, and compare the patterns to those found in samples from their partner/spouse (who share the same environment) and first degree relatives e.g. child/sibling (who share genes).

This will allow us to better understand how bowel cancer develops and potentially allow the development of a new way of screening the population for bowel cancer.

Professor Chuka Nwokolo, based at UHCW, is the project’s main supervisor and chief investigator. Dr Ramesh Arasaradnam, based at UHCW and the University of Warwick, and Dr James Covington from the University of Warwick Engineering department, are also supervising the project. They both have extensive experience of research into the use of Electronic noses for detection of disease, particularly of the GI tract. The analysis of the samples will be conducted at the University of Warwick’s Engineering department under Dr Covington’s supervision.

We will be collecting urine and stool samples from 150 patients with colorectal cancer, 100 co-habitors (spouses/partners or friends) and 100 relatives (parents, siblings, children). We will compare the patterns of chemicals in these specimens using the Electronic nose, looking for any overlap between the various sample groups. After this we will produce a final report that will disseminate our findings. The project began in September 2015 and will be completed within 24 months. The final report will be completed by September 2017 or soon thereafter.

This project is unlikely to lead to any immediate clinical benefits to our subjects but it will hopefully increase our understanding of how sporadic colorectal cancer develops, does it have more to do with environmental factors such as diet, or genetic factors running in families. It will hopefully provide further evidence that urine samples can be successfully used to detect bowel cancer from patients who do not have cancer and this may one day lead to the use of this technology as an alternative screening method for bowel cancer than the stool tests which are used at the moment.

Success will be determined in a number of ways, including publications, development of further research and increasing our understanding of the way in which bowel cancer develops.