Tackling the sinister stomach bug

18 Jan 2010 09:00:00.000

PA 08/10

A common stomach bug which can cause gastric ulcers and even stomach cancer is the target of a new piece of research by scientists at The University of Nottingham.


Around half of the world’s population carries the bacterium ‘Helicobacter pylori’ which is often picked up in childhood and lives in their stomach throughout their lives unless treated. Most people have no symptoms from it; however in some people the inflammation caused by the bacterium can lead to ulcers or cancer in later life.


Researchers in the Nottingham Digestive Diseases Centre Biomedical Research Unit (run jointly by the University and NHS) have been awarded nearly £216,000 by Cancer Research UK to investigate how some strains of the bacteria produce a potent toxin and how that can cause the pre-cancerous changes which underlie stomach cancer. The ultimate aim of this research is to identify the particular strains of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium which tend to cause cancer so that people carrying these strains can be given antibiotics to get rid of the infection.

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Previous research has revealed that Helicobacter pylori-induced gastric cancer is not only due to the toxic nature of the infecting strain, but also depends on the genetic susceptibility of the person and environmental factors. The scientists believe that the bacterium manipulates the immune system so that it can persist in the stomach virtually throughout people’s lives and this is the basis of other research currently being performed by the Nottingham group.

Leading the research, Professor of Gastroenterology, John Atherton said: “Helicobacter pylori is in fact the main cause of stomach cancer, the second biggest contributor to cancer deaths worldwide. This piece of research is vital because if the cancer-causing strains of the bacterium can be identified, and we can understand how they predispose to cancer, then we are hopeful that we can eventually prevent this killer disease by targeted antibiotic treatment.”

Dr Julie Sharp, Science Information Manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “We’re very pleased to be supporting this work. About half the world's population is infected with H-pylori but how chronic H-pylori infection influences cells in the stomach to turn cancerous is not fully understood. Infection rates are particularly high in poor countries, so anything we can do to prevent the onset of cancer in people with H-pylori is hugely important work, and we await the results of this research project with interest.”
— Ends —

Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 100 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and Times Higher (THE) World University Rankings.

More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to RAE 2008, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranks the University 7th in the UK by research power. In 27 subject areas, the University features in the UK Top Ten, with 14 of those in the Top Five.

The University provides innovative and top quality teaching, undertakes world-changing research, and attracts talented staff and students from 150 nations. Described by The Times as Britain's "only truly global university", it has invested continuously in award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. Twice since 2003 its research and teaching academics have won Nobel Prizes. The University has won the Queen's Award for Enterprise in both 2006 (International Trade) and 2007 (Innovation — School of Pharmacy), and was named ‘Entrepreneurial University of the Year’ at the Times Higher Education Awards 2008.

 Nottingham was designated as a Science City in 2005 in recognition of its rich scientific heritage, industrial base and role as a leading research centre. Nottingham has since embarked on a wide range of business, property, knowledge transfer and educational initiatives (www.science-city.co.uk)  in order to build on its growing reputation as an international centre of scientific excellence. The University of Nottingham is a partner in Nottingham: the Science City.

About Cancer Research UK

•    Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research.
•    The charity’s groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.  This work is funded entirely by the public.
•    Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last thirty years.
•    Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of more than 4,800 scientists, doctors and nurses.
•    Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or visit www.cancerresearchuk.org

Story credits

More information is available from Professor John Atherton on +44 (0)115 823 1034 john.atherton@nottingham.ac.uk

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