Since September 2011, 40tude curing colon cancer has raised more than £800,000 for St Mark's Hospital in Harrow, a world-leading centre for research and the treatment of bowel disorders. The medical teams at St. Mark’s are leading several projects which have the potential to transform the early diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer.  The funds we raise are targeted at specific projects which without 40tude’s support would not move forward.  

So far 40tude has successfully sponsored the FLEX Project - the development of new minimally invasive surgery to remove colon cancer - and has supported the Artificial Bowel Project, a pioneering research programme to engineer new bowel tissue using existing stem cells in a patient.

We are helping to fund now the PERFECTS programme, to improve and monitor the quality of CT colonographies across the NHS and potentially worldwide - and are delighted to have recently committed to support also the PROGRESS research project, to help advance understanding and clinical management of polyps (pre-cancerous growths in the colon).

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40tude funded projects at St. Mark's:

Project 1 – The FLEX Research Project 

FLEX is a leading-edge surgical technique to treat colon cancer.  This new minimally invasive surgical technique prevents the need for cancer patients to have large sections of their colon removed while still removing the cancer successfully.  This means vastly improved care and a faster post-operative recovery time. FLEX is already saving lives and transforming post-operative recovery times.  Professor Robin Kennedy successfully carried out the first operation using the FLEX technique at St. Mark’s Hospital in late 2014. Based on this success, work is now underway to develop formally a prototype and design the process for rolling out the programme to other hospitals in the UK and potentially worldwide. 

Project 2 – Artificial Bowel Project 

40tude is also supporting the Artificial Bowel Project, a pioneering research programme to engineer new bowel tissue using existing stem cells in a patient. Our donations have allowed for the development of a dedicated bioreactor and have funded a research post for this combined research programme at St. Mark’s Hospital and the Northwick Park Institute of Medical Research.

Project 3 - PERFECTS: Better Colonography Screening 

PERFECTS is a programme to develop a Quality Assurance and training tool to improve and monitor the quality of CT colonographies in the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programmes.  CT Colonography can be an effective screening tool to identify early stage colon cancer. It has significant advantages over colonoscopy as it costs around 50% less per procedure and is non-invasive and, therefore, more comfortable for patients. CT colonography should enable much more widespread screening for colon cancer.  40tude has made a two year commitment to help fund this project which has the potential to be rolled out throughout the UK initially and then globally. Your support would make a significant impact on this initiative, which could transform the early detection rates of colon cancer world-wide.  

Project 4 - PROGRESS   

40tude has recently committed to fund a new, exciting research project, called the PROGRESS project, to help advance understanding and clinical management of polyps.

"Bowel cancer develops from pre-cancerous growths in the colon called polyps,” explains Dr. Adam Humphries, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Endoscopy Clinical Lead at St. Mark’s Hospital who will be leading this new study.  “Polyps can be detected through colonoscopy screening and easily removed, preventing colon cancer. However the evolution and cancer risk of polyps is still poorly understood.

“PROGRESS aims to advance our understanding and clinical management of polyps, to enable accurate, personalised clinical risk stratification for patients. By combining clinical outcome data with the latest available gene and protein expression analysis, methods for predicting subsequent polyp growth and cancer risk in individuals will be defined. 

“As a result of this research, limited NHS endoscopic resources could be focused more accurately on those patients at increased risk of PROGRESSion to colon cancer, with unnecessary interventions avoided for low-risk patients,” concludes Adam.

As is the case for the other projects 40tude has supported, this pioneering work could influence national and international guidelines – in this case for treating patients who have polyps detected at colonoscopy, benefiting tens of thousands of people in the UK alone. 

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 Photos courtesy of St. Mark's Hospital

 Photos courtesy of St. Mark's Hospital

More detail on the above projects:

FLEX programme: As a result of bowel cancer screening programmes around the world, more patients are being diagnosed with bowel cancer that is at an early stage (limited to the bowel wall only). Bowel polyps are benign, pre-cancerous lesions and these are also being diagnosed more frequently. Polyps are usually removed from within the lumen of the bowel (endoscopically), but when too large, surgery is necessary.

Due to the increasing number of such patients, more people than ever before are having to be referred for surgery. The standard surgical procedure performed is a segmental colectomy, during which approximately one quarter to one third of the large bowel is removed, along with its attached blood vessels and lymph glands. Even though the majority of such procedures are performed via keyhole surgery, major tissue removal is associated with a significant risk of complications (up to 40%), some of which are life threatening.

Recovering patients may stay in hospital for up to 10 days but the full recovery can take up to 6 months. In addition, bowel shortening may cause bowel frequency and diarrhoea.  With advances in both endoscopic and laparoscopic (keyhole) technologies, a group of surgeons, endoscopists and scientists at St. Mark’s Hospital and Northwick Park Institute for Medical Research have developed a new technique to address the limitations and problems associated with, current surgical treatment. Using a technique call Full thickness Laparo-endoscopic EXcision (FLEX), it will be possible to remove large bowel polyps and early bowel cancers by taking only a small portion of the bowel, leaving the blood vessels and the lymph glands behind. We anticipate that this new approach will be safer for patients, and that there will be less scarring and a faster recovery. As less bowel will be removed, the bowel upset that some experience long term should not occur. Lastly, it will cost less than a third of current treatment. 

The research team is now studying the effectiveness of the FLEX technique in patients at St. Mark's Hospital, with successful results. We’re delighted that FLEX is already saving lives, while work has begun to develop a prototype to enable this pioneering technique to be rolled out to other hospitals, potentially worldwide. 

Artificial Bowel Project: Funds raised by 40tude have been directed also to the Artificial Bowel Project, a combined research programme at St. Mark’s Hospital and the Northwick Park Institute of Medical Research (NPIMR) to engineer new bowel tissue using a unique scaffold. 

Dr Simon Gabe, Consultant Gastroenterologist at St Mark’s, explains: “When you remove the cells from body tissue there is a scaffold, or lattice, of connective tissue that is left behind.  It is then possible to seed this scaffold with new cells to form another organ.  Our lab has been working hard to be able to harvest stem cells from fat stores. Stem cells are cells that have the potential to become cells in any body tissue. There are stem cells that exist in adult bone marrow and body fat stores which may become gut cells when placed in the right environment.  

“The time has now come to populate our novel 3D intestinal scaffold with stem cells and other cells from the gastrointestinal tract.  To do this we have had to design a specific bioreactor to maintain the cells that we place onto the 3D scaffold, allowing them to develop into gastrointestinal tissue with arteries and veins.  In time, this will be connected to the circulation and implanted into the abdomen.” 

40tude’s donations have allowed for the development of the bioreactor and provided funding for a research post.