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Made-to-measure treatment battling colon cancer by computer


Colon cancer treatment could be revolutionised with a pioneering computer system to help doctors fight the disease.

Colon cancer is the third biggest killer cancer and the £2 million EU-funded project could mean faster and more accurate diagnosis, leading to better treatment outcomes for patients.

The system identifies gene mutations that contribute to the growth of cancerous tumours, giving doctors vital details about the type of cancer and its possible causes. It works by matching information from a simple blood test to gene databases of other cases, equipping doctors with a valuable tool to make decisions on long-term care.

It helps them determine the most effective way to battle the condition and, by speeding up the time to make treatment decisions, it will boost survival rates and reduce costs incurred by inaccurate diagnosis. It also means patients will no longer need to undergo invasive procedures unnecessarily.

The project has been masterminded by a team across the EU, comprising leading computer experts working alongside cancer specialists, biomedical scientists and genetic engineers.

It heralds the first major step towards tailor-made, personalised medical treatment.

Dr Babak Akhgar leads the seven-strong team working on the project, in the University’s Cultural, Communication and Computing Research Institute. He said: "It’s very exciting. It is potentially a defining IT project for the future of cancer care and is a huge step towards cutting cancer rates across the board because once the system is established it can be adapted to be applied to other cancers. There’s a real chance of helping save lives. It harnesses the know-how in this field across Europe, bringing it to the desktop of any healthcare professional. It means treatment is backed up by hard facts, rather than reliant on a specialist’s interpretation and experience alone.

"It will be the first breakthrough in personalised medicine. It’s like being able to take a tablet not just for symptom relief, but to treat the exact illness you have. This paves the way for 25th century drugs that are tailor-made to treat an individual’s problems, rather than mass-produced drugs for all."

Sheffield Hallam University is one of eight research partners from across Europe working on the project, called MATCH. The state-of-the-art technology could be in use in hospitals within five years.

The next phase of MATCH is collecting data from colon cancer patient databases in Italy and Poland, which will be fed into the system and tested.

Pharmaceutical firms will also be brought into the project to feed into talks on potential new drug design and discoveries.

Kelly Hill | alfa
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