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Recently funded research – understanding cancer at the population level

by Emma Smith | Analysis

31 August 2015

1 comment 1 comment

A crowd of people

Thanks to your support, we fund research into many different aspects of cancer.

To decide what to fund, we assemble panels of experts in different fields, who scrutinise applications for funds from the wider research community. And one of these committees oversees the funding of a type of science called ‘population research’.

Population research is the study of the patterns, causes and effects of cancer across large groups of people – instead of examining cells growing in a lab. The scientists are looking for things that affect our risk of developing cancer.

This ranges from invisible factors (genetics, or molecules found in our blood), to physical characteristics (like height, gender and ethnicity), our environment, lifestyle and behaviours, other health conditions or prescribed medicines, and even how well-off we are financially.

Understanding factors that contribute to cancer can influence the advice we offer, and make sure the right people have access to it. This can also determine which topics we campaign for and highlight to politicians.

It can give scientists new insights into the causes of cancer, and potential new avenues to treat it, which can translate back into laboratory research.

And it can unearth biological ‘signposts’ that could act as a warning sign that someone is at higher risk of cancer, or an early signal that cancer has developed, helping spot the disease when it’s easier to treat.

The committee meets twice a year, and is in charge of an annual budget of around £2m. Here are some of the highlights of the new population research projects we funded after the last meeting, in April 2015:

Keeping active and surviving bowel cancer

Victoria Coyle

Dr Victoria Coyle

Dr Victoria Coyle, Queen’s University Belfast: applied for £750,000

Dr Coyle is leading the UK part of a large international clinical trial called CHALLENGE. The trial is finding out if taking part in a physical activity programme helps patients with bowel cancer reduce their risk of the disease coming back after treatment.

The trial is being led from Canada and will follow nearly 1000 patients – 160 from the UK – over three years.

Hormones in stomach and oesophageal cancers

Dr Amanda Cross

Dr Amanda Cross

Dr Amanda Cross, Imperial College London: applied for £301,000

Dr Cross is looking at possible links between stomach and oesophageal cancers and hormones.  Both cancers are more common in men than women, and they’re more common among people who are obese. So Dr Cross wants to find out if differences in hormone levels are playing a role in how the diseases develop.

She is tracking information including lifestyle choices, physical factors (such as weight), and hormone levels in blood samples from more than a million people, to see if any of these factors increase peoples’ likelihood of developing stomach or oesophageal cancer.

Helping more people quit smoking

Prof Stephen Sutton

Prof Stephen Sutton

Professor Stephen Sutton, University of Cambridge applied for £408,000

Professor Sutton is studying the effectiveness of new support tools in helping people stop smoking. The new measures are web and text message based, and are tailored to people according to their needs – the trial will include 600 smokers trying to quit.

Professor Sutton aims to improve the support the NHS provides to smokers in helping thousands to quit smoking every year and consequently reduce smoking-related disease. And because so many adults in the UK smoke, even a small increase in the number of quit attempts could have a big impact.

Predicting breast cancer recurrence

Dr Charlotte Coles and Professor Judith Bliss, Institute of Cancer Research, London applied for £580,000

Dr Charlotte Coles

Dr Charlotte Coles

Dr Coles and Professor Bliss are leading a clinical study to find out if the biological characteristics of breast tumours can help identify women at very low risk of their cancer coming back after surgery. They want to find out if these women can safely avoid radiotherapy, potentially sparing them unnecessary treatment.

Around 2000 women with early stage breast cancer will be invited to take part in the trial.

You can see more of our recently funded population research here.

We look forward to seeing the findings from this latest batch of funded research, and how it helps us achieve our goal of preventing more cancers, and helping more people survive.


NB: Figures given as ‘applied for’ because, although grants last for several years, the Population Research Committee funds its grants on an annual basis; subsequent funds are paid dependent on satisfactory research progress.


  • apu mahmud
    2 September 2015

    this kind of idea is very good for our society to take an action to refuse cancer . we should be careful from any kind of cancer


  • apu mahmud
    2 September 2015

    this kind of idea is very good for our society to take an action to refuse cancer . we should be careful from any kind of cancer