Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related death in the UK. Potential reasons why colon cancer is on the increase in the western world include changes in diet and in the types of bacteria residing in our gut. Microbes aid in the digestion and absorption of nutrients and energy from food and guard against harmful bacteria. However, due to our present nutrient and energy rich diets, and clean lifestyles, changes in number or types of bacteria in our gut may be contributing to cancer. The cells lining our intestine, epithelial cells (IEC) recognise bacteria through a group of transmembrane receptors termed Toll-like receptors (TLR). Engagement of TLR receptors by bacterial products activates signalling pathways within the cell leading to 'inflammation' and division of epithelial cells, prerequisites to the development of cancer.
My research interests lie in mechanisms of repair and renewal of the intestinal epithelium. During diseases such as colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), epithelial repair homeostasis is disrupted. My research focuses on the interplay between luminal bacteria and the epithelium through a family of proteins termed suppressors of cytokine signalling (SOCS) which are important mediators of cancer and inflammation.
SOCS3 is silenced in many tumour types and influences growth of intestinal epithelial cells (IEC). We are currently exploring factors which influence the expression of SOCS3 in IEC, focusing on the effects of bacteria and inflammatory cytokines.