When cells in our body experience changes in their local ‘environment’ - such as infections or chemicals made by other cells - they can change their behaviour to react to the environment. These changes in the behaviour of cells are a normal part of how bodies work, but occasionally the control of these changes goes wrong and can lead to cancer. We are studying the mechanisms inside cells that control changes in cell behaviour, including how signals from outside cells can be transmitted correctly inside the cell and lead to changes in which genes are switched on and off.
One of the proteins that we are interested in is called p53. p53 is well-known to be very important for protecting against cancer; in more than half of cases of cancer the gene for p53 has a genetic error (a mutation). p53 helps to control which genes are switched on and off in a cell and it is involved in ‘decisions’ a cell makes about how to respond to changes in the local environment or damage inside the cell.
The scientists in our group work on projects to understand the control mechanisms inside cells, but we also work closely with the medical teams who treat patients with cancer. For example, we are looking at tiny samples of tissue from patients to try to understand the early changes that happen in cancer in the digestive tract. Understanding this might help to improve early diagnosis or treatment.