Cancer Research at Bath (CRAB)

Newest developments in cancer research in and around Bath

Posts By: Emma Bunting

Carcinogenic Meat

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Recently, the prospect that eating red or processed meat can increase your risk of cancer has been highly talked about in the media. Lean red meat is not only delicious, but also an important source of iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and protein. So how can something seemingly so harmless inflict such a serious disease? It does so via chemicals known as “N-nitroso compounds” that are formed upon digestion of these meats, which go on to damage the cells that line the bowel. Other likely factors include the high fat content in meat, as well as the fact that if meat takes up a large proportion of your diet- you tend to miss out on cancer protective foods, like fruit and vegetables and wholegrain cereals.

It is important to be aware of what kinds of meat are associated with this risk. Red meat includes beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton and goat; whilst processed meat refers to meat that has been treated in some manner e.g. smoking, curing, or other processes that may be used to enhance flavor or improved preservation. No link has been shown between eating poultry and developing cancer, whilst some studies have even shown that eating fish can actually reduce the risk of bowel, prostate and breast cancers!

Which Meats Are Risky?

Which Meats Are Risky?

Secondly, this risk must be put into perspective. Compared to the well-known risk factor of smoking (see Ellie's last post) only 3% of cancers can be ascribed to red or processed meat compared to 20% caused by tobacco.  Another way of looking at this is by examining the impact of these risk factors on the cancers with which they are most closely linked. Where tobacco is responsible for 86% of all lung cancers, red or processed meat causes 21% of bowel cancer cases. It's all relative- but is this a risk you’re willing to take?

tabacco vs meat

Risk of Tobacco vs Meat

According to the Scientific Advisory Commission on Nutrition, there’s no need to cut meat out altogether- but we should eat no more than 70g of red/processed meat per day. That’s equal to less than 3 slices of bacon.

Recommended Daily Meat Intake

Recommended Daily Meat Intake

To many, this doesn’t sound like much of an allowance… but it's actually much easier to achieve than you might think. Start by eating smaller portions of meat and bulking out your meal with extra vegetables, beans and pulses. You can also swap your red meat filling in your burger/sandwich for chicken or fish. Another great way would be to take part in the global ‘Meatless Mondays’ movement. With time, I think many people would be surprised at how easy this is to cut meat out completely, and may want to consider its carcinogenic status yet another one of the many reasons to go vegetarian. Along with benefiting your long-term health, you would also be contributing to solving many of the environmental issues that face our planet (livestock production accounts for over 18% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions... which is more than emissions both transport and power generation!), as well as no longer funding an industry that causes so much animal suffering.

The carcinogenic status of meat has arisen from epidemiological studies that found associations between diets high in these meats and the incidence of certain types of cancer- in particular colorectal and bowel cancer. Epidemiological studies are those which analyse the patterns, causes and effects of health and disease in defined populations. Cancer Research at Bath (CR@B) are part of a research collaboration that aims to investigate the variation in European cancer survival rates, and why Britain has such low survival rates compared with the rest of the continent. One of their recent projects looked at the factors affecting GP’s decision to refer patients for further investigation. It is thought that our low survival rates are mainly due to a delay in diagnosis, and hence it is hoped that by pin-pointing and correcting the reason why, we can save more lives.


Bath Half Marathon

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Sunday 13th March was the day of the Bath Half Marathon, where thousands of people ran 21km for hundreds of different charities- including many related to cancer. Amongst these were Macmillan Cancer Support, Marie Curie Cancer Care and CoppaFeel.

bath half_450x303

At the starting line of Bath Half 2016

Charities like Macmillan Cancer Support and Marie Curie Cancer Care are both involved with supporting people and their families through their illness by offering expert care and guidance. At the University of Bath, the psychology department are working with Royal United Hospital on how best to emotionally support survivors. With the rapid development and success of new treatments, this is becoming a more and more important area. Their research has involved interviewing cancer survivors, and developing a booklet that contains informational and emotional support targeted at the main key concerns and difficulties they had found.

CoppaFeel is a charity aimed at preventing late diagnosis of breast cancer. They do this by ensuring that people:

-       know what their breasts should look and feel like normally

-       check their breasts regularly throughout their lifetime

-       know the signs and symptoms of breast cancer

-       have the confidence to go to the doctors if they find anything not quite right.

Researchers here at The University of Bath are developing probes for the early diagnosis of breast, colon and prostate cancer. They are using luminescent particles tagged with antibodies that bind only diseased tissues. To give you an idea of the impact of this research, it is thought that by early detection:

-       90% of breast cancer cases will survive, compared with only 15% if found at the most advanced stage of the disease

-       70% of lung cancer cases will live for at least one year, compared with only 14% when found late.

-       Between 5000-10000 lives are saved across the country.

If you want to run the half marathon next year, you should consider running for our charity. We will be looking into becoming one of the official race charities, but in the mean time you can fund raise as an ‘own place’ runner by registering through the general public scheme and creating your own JustGiving page.  As one of the 2016 runners, I can tell you from personal experience how great it feels to cross the finish line.

Finisher's Photo, Bath Half 2016  Left: Me Right: My friend Annie

Finisher's Photo, Bath Half 2016
Left: Me
Right: My friend Annie

The run was surprisingly fun, and there’s such a great atmosphere on the day. As we were too late to sign up to be ‘own place’ runners where we could support CR@B, my friend Annie and I signed up to run for Macmillan Cancer Support (another very worthwhile charity!). Between us, we raised over £1500- and even more if you include GiftAid.

If you want to make a difference, sign up now…

(sign up before the 1st April 2016 and you can get a £5 Early Bird Discount!)







Cancer Research Internship

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Thank you to everyone who came along to our stall at Refreshers Fayre! It was amazing to see so much interest in helping out at future events. Hope you guys found it informative. Congratulations to Rebecca Lewis and Emma Garland who won the jar of jelly babies and CR@B t-shirts! The correct answer was 72.

Refreshers Fayre - four volunteers

Constanza, Lizzie, Emma and Nuria at the Refreshers Fayre

This week, I just wanted to tell you a little bit about my experience at Cambridge, where I was involved in cancer research first hand.

I started at the beginning of summer, a week after we broke up from Bath. I moved straight into halls at Downing College - just a 5-minute walk from where I was working at the Department of Biochemistry in the TLB lab. Cambridge is such a beautiful city, and I’d recommend visiting if you haven’t before!

I was working with Dr Qian Wu (my supervisor), on her project investigating the recruitment of the BRCA1 protein to DNA damage sites, where it helps to maintain genomic stability.  BRCA1 mutations (which are found in patients with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer) can increase a women’s risk of developing breast cancer from a 12.5% lifetime risk to 55-75% before the age of 70. Patients with these mutations often have a double mastectomy (like the famous case of Angelina Jolie) to reduce their risk. By further understanding the mechanism of recruitment and function of BRCA1, the design of potential treatments for these cancers can be aided.

Our paper was published last month in Molecular Cell.

I was really lucky with the people I worked with. The entire lab were so welcoming and friendly and I still stay in contact with many of them. I learnt so much in just two months thanks to my very patient supervisor and my incredible PI (Professor Sir Tom Blundell), who despite his extremely busy schedule made the time to discuss my progress every single week.

Emma Bunting in Cambridge Lab

Emma Bunting in Cambridge Lab

If you can ever get involved in helping out with research of any kind, take every opportunity you can. Personally, it inspired me to spend my placement year doing academic research, and to get more involved with Cancer Research at Bath. For this I’ll be forever thankful to the TLB lab! Unfortunately, internship positions for 2016 have already been filled. However, if you are interested in applying for Summer 2017, contact Sir Tom ( by November 2016.

Our university is also investigating breast cancer. Our researchers are involved in a team of scientists that have recently shown DNA previously considered to be "Junk" may play a role in preventing the disease. Cancer Research at Bath (CR@B) has several specialists in cancer research, including Dr Adele Murrell, Dr Julie Turner-Cobb, and Dr James Turner. .