German researchers have confirmed that the risk of developing bowel cancer can be reduced by adopting some or all of five key healthy lifestyle changes.


Scientists at the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke found that the greater number of healthy behaviours a person adopts, the greater chance they have of avoiding the disease. The five lifestyle choices highlighted are: taking regular exercise; maintaining a healthy weight; not smoking; limiting alcohol consumption and eating a balanced diet. More than half (55%) of bowel cancer cases occur in the developed world, such as North America and Western Europe. Previous research has highlighted a link between Western lifestyles and cancer rates.

This 12-year study, part of the wider European Prospective Investigation on Cancer and Nutrition (link is external) (EPIC) study, looked at the data of 347,237 men and women from ten nations, recording 3,759 bowel cancer cases. Participants were assigned one point for each of the five behaviours they adopted, or zero if they didn’t adopt any of them, adding up to a cumulative score. Those who combined two healthy behaviours saw their risk lowered by 13 per cent, rising to 21 per cent for those with three healthy behaviours, 34 per cent for those practising four and 37 per cent for those who adopted all five.

Lead author Krasimira Aleksandrova said the findings show that more than one in five of male cases and about one in ten female cases could have been prevented if everyone adopted all five healthy behaviours. Welcoming the research, Fiona Osgun, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “We know that there are lots of things you can do to reduce the risk of bowel cancer, including being more active, keeping a healthy weight, not smoking, cutting down on alcohol and eating a healthy balanced diet. “This large study reiterates what other studies have shown – that the effects add up – so the more of these lifestyle factors you adopt, the lower the risk of bowel cancer. “It’s great to see research that is reaffirming that when it comes to reducing your cancer risk an all-round approach to a healthy lifestyle is best.”

* In a separate development, US scientists have developed a new computer-based method of analysing biological data and used it to unearth the genetic roots of an aggressive form of brain cancer known as ‘mesenchymal’ glioblastoma. Columbia University Medical Center researchers combined the new method, or ‘algorithm’, with traditional computer models to look at the underlying causes of a form of glioblastoma in 250 patients.

The algorithm called DIGGIT (Driver-Gene Inference by Genetical-Genomic Information Theory) identified that about half of the tumours were caused by the loss of a gene called KLHL9. By reintroducing the protein that is usually created by a functioning KLHL9 gene into mice with the disease, the scientists found they were able to shrink tumours, highlighting a new potential strategy to treat the disease.

Could arthritis drugs help kidney transplant survival?

A research programme is under way in America that could see drugs used for arthritis also being  used to help kidney transplant patients. The University College of San Francisco (UCSF) is the lead institution on a seven-year, $17 million study funded by the National Institutes of Health. Its aim is to determine if immune system cells and/or a drug now used for treating rheumatoid arthritis can be effective in improving and maintaining the long-term health of transplant recipients.

Although acute rejection rates are down to less than 15% and one-year graft survival up to more than 90%, long-term graft success rates have remained unchanged. A major contributor is progression of interstitial fibrosis and tubular atrophy in the kidney. The cells that the researchers are focused on are regulatory T cells (Tregs), which are a small population of lymphocytes that suppress the activity of other immune cells. They maintain normal immune system homeostasis and safeguard against autoimmune diseases, and their immunosuppressive properties also can be harnessed to control transplant rejection.

Leading the study is principal investigator Dr Flavio Vincenti, UCSF professor of medicine and a kidney and pancreas transplant specialist at UCSF Medical Center. Other participating institutions are the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Emory University and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Dr Vincenti said: “This grant allows us to work toward achieving two important advances in the transplant field. “We can introduce personalised medicine by treating patients based on molecular profiling of their kidney. We also can allow control of the response to the transplant by the patients’ own immune systems by regulatory T cells, either through infusions or pharmacologically.” Researchers believe inflammation can be controlled in kidney transplant recipients by increasing the number or activity of Tregs, either by infusing them into the body or by blocking interleukin 6 (IL6) with the drug tocilizumab. To test this, they will conduct clinical trials.