Major European study involving Leicester experts aims to reduce radiotherapy side-effects
Published by University of Leicester Press Office for University of Leicester in Health and also in Education
Leicester scientists are involved in a major international study which aims to reduce the unwanted side-effects of radiotherapy and improve cancer treatment.
Experts from the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics, Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine are involved in REQUITE – a study funded by the European Union and involving 13 institutions in the UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, The Netherlands and the US.
The £5 million study, led by the University of Manchester, aims to identify ways to predict which breast, prostate and lung cancer patients are most likely to suffer long-term side effects.
These findings will then be used to design trials to test if cancer treatment can be tailored more specially to individuals so that the worse side effects of radiation – such as bowel or bladder incontinence can be avoided.
There are 17.8 million people living in the European Union with a diagnosis of cancer and seven million of these people might receive radiotherapy - a treatment that involves the use of high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells.
In the long-term around 20 per cent of those suffering with mild to severe side-effects – 1.4 million people – could benefit from the improvements the study brings.
The five-year study is the first major grant won by members of the Radiogenomics Consortium, a collaboration set up in 2009 to work on projects identifying the common genetic variations that influence a cancer patient’s likelihood of developing side-effects from radiotherapy.
REQUITE includes a four year observational study of cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy across Europe, US and in the UK.
Patients will each give a blood sample, from which DNA will be extracted and genotyped to identify genetic variation.
Scientists can then look at this variation in terms of the side effects experienced by the patient and use this information to confirm and potentially improve current models that try to predict a patient’s response to radiotherapy.
In the future this type of research could reduce side effects for all radiotherapy patients, improve quality of life and potentially increase the number of patients successfully treated for their cancer.
Dr Christopher Talbot, of the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics, is deputy co-ordinator of the project and the lead for the biomarkers work-package.
Leicester researchers will lead on the analysis of biological markers to predict radiation toxicity - particularly by looking at genetic markers and by studying how blood lymphocytes respond to radiation.
Leicester is also running the database for the whole REQUITE project, led by Professor Anthony Brookes, of the Department of Genetics.
The University is one of the clinical recruitment centres, led by Professor Paul Symonds, of the Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine. Dr George Don Jones is also involved as an expert in radiobiology.
Dr Talbot said: “I hope that the project will construct a statistical model, including biological marker data, to predict which patients with lung, breast or prostate cancers are at risk of serious adverse reactions to radiotherapy.
“This is an important area because as survival from cancer increases more people are living with side effects of treatment. Anything we can do to lower side effects by personalising the treatment to the individual has the potential to improve quality-of-life for cancer survivors.
“In future, cancer treatments will be optimised for each individual and their particular tumour, so that survival is optimised and side effects are minimised.”
Professor Catharine West, Professor of Radiation Biology at The University of Manchester’s Institute of Cancer Sciences who is leading the study, said: “Long-term side-effects of radiotherapy impact on the quality-of-life of cancer survivors.
“Earlier work has identified clinical and biological predictors but more work and a better co-ordinated approach is needed to validate these findings so that they can be used in hospitals when treating patients.
“The study, known as REQUITE, aims to develop new clinical models and incorporate biomarkers to identify, before treatment, cancer patients at risk of side-effects. We can then use these models to design interventional trials aimed at reducing side-effects and improving quality of care in cancer survivors who undergo radiotherapy.”
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