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Queen’s Researcher wins top award at prestigious European Congress

Dr Philip Dunne, senior research fellow at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, was awarded the best scientific presentation at the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine Congress, held recently in Belfast.

Dr Dunne's work was selected for the top prize from over 200 scientific abstracts that were presented at the Congress, which was an official EU Presidency event as part of the Estonian Presidency.

On receiving the award, Dr Dunne said: 

"It is an absolute honour to accept this award for our work on developing specific biomarkers to aid clinical decision-making for patients with colorectal (bowel) cancer. Colorectal cancer represents the second most common cause of cancer-related death in the UK and we urgently need to develop new ways to improve how we treat patients with this disease."

Describing the importance of his work Dr Dunne said: 

"There are approximately 1.4 million cases of colorectal cancer diagnosed annually worldwide, with 41,000 cases in the UK each year. Looking at the genes inside colorectal cells has greatly increased our knowledge of the disease, but as yet this increased understanding has yet to significantly contribute to standard patient care, particularly for patients with early stage disease. Our research, performed in collaboration with the University of Torino, Italy, has identified a new gene signature which indicates that there are five different types of colorectal cancer and the technique that we have developed to reveal this new and exciting data is robust, allowing us to use biopsy samples from patients to inform clinical care."

Altmetrics, a specific measure of the relevance and importance of health research studies, has ranked the Belfast-led study in the top 2% worldwide for research impact.

Professor Mark Lawler, current Chair of Translational Cancer Genomics at Queens's and senior author of this study said:

"We have demonstrated the ability of this new classification system to stratify patients based on their molecular subtype in a series of colorectal biopsy samples obtained during a phase II clinical trial. The ultimate aim of this work is to allow patients to receive a more tailored disease management plan based on the specific biology of their tumour. This will maximise the chances of treatment success but also minimise the debilitating toxicities that can occur with cancer therapies. Using our collaborative links to the UK and European clinical trial network, we now aim to further test these findings in ongoing prospective clinical trials with the aim of improving patient outcomes for this difficult-to-treat disease."

This work was funded by the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK and is part of the Stratified Medicine Consortium in Colorectal Cancer (S:CORT), a UK-wide network employing precision medicine approaches to enhance outcomes in colorectal cancer. Dr Dunne is the current Entwistle Fellow at Queen's University Belfast, and has recently undertaken a visiting fellowship at the University of Turin to enable this collaborative work.

Emphasising the strength of the research at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen's, researchers from CCRCB also won two of the five prizes on offer for best poster presentations at the EAPM Congress. Dr Matthew Alderdice, a postdoctoral research with Dr Dunne and Professor Lawler won a prize for his work, also in colorectal cancer, while Francesca Amoroso, who works with Dr Ian Mills at CCRCB, won a prize for her research into prostate cancer. Commenting on these successes, Professor Chris Elliott, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences at Queen's said:

"It is a remarkable achievement for Queen's researchers to win 50% of the prizes on offer at this prestigious international Congress and showcases the excellence and international standing of our research."