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Exploring the association between visceral adipose tissue and gastrointestinal malignancy: the role of the insulin-like growth factor pathway.

Dr. Claire Donohoe,MD / PhD Student
Dr. Claire Donohoe, MD / PhD Student

The aim of this study is to examine the insulin growth factor family and its role in the development of cancer in the oesophagus and colon. The insulin growth factor family is group of proteins involved in promoting growth and prolonging the life-span of cells within the body. People who are overweight and obese are more likely to develop certain cancers than those of normal body weight. They also have an increased risk of dying from cancer. Obese people produce increased amounts of insulin and the insulin-like growth factor family. We propose to look at differences in levels of these proteins between individuals with and those without cancer. Our theory is that the mechanism by which obese people have a higher risk of developing cancer of the colon and oesophagus is by increased activity of the insulin –like growth factor family. We will look for insulin-like growth factor receptor proteins in samples of tumour from patients with oesophageal and colorectal cancers and then specifically look at the influence of intra-abdominal fat on these levels in the blood and within the tumour.

Immune cells are the body’s mechanism of fighting off infection and repairing damaged tissue. They also help identify and kill cancer cells before they can organise themselves into a tumour. It is thought that belly fat causes immune cells in the body to become overactive so that obese people have immune cells which are overactive all of the time and cannot properly identify early cancer cells. We want to see whether insulin-like growth factors are produced by immune cells found in tumours.

We hope to determine whether the insulin growth factor family influences cancer growth and survival, reduces cancer cell death and enhances the ability of cancer cells to spread to other organs. If we can demonstrate that insulin-like growth factor is the reason why those who are overweight are at increased risk of developing cancer, there may be a role for blocking the action of insulin-like growth factor family to prevent or treat cancers in these patients

By establishing an improved scientific understanding of the link between obesity and cancer, we aim to provide scientific support for ongoing public health campaigns as well as hopefully providing valuable new insights into the mechanism of this association.

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Last updated 23 November 2016 Surgery - Web Administrator (Email).