Patients in West Cumbria could be set to benefit from a ground-breaking £985,000 cancer research and treatment project.

The project, funded by the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and announced today, aims to reverse the region’s high incidence and low survival rates of bowel cancer (also called colorectal cancer).

The Colorectal Cancer Screening Prevention Endoscopy and Early Diagnosis project, or COLO-SPEED, will see 18 regional NHS endoscopy units – from Whitehaven to Sunderland, and Northallerton to Cramlington – recruiting up to 5,000 patients a year to help speed up research into the disease.

Professor Colin Rees, professor of gastroenterology at Newcastle University and South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, is one of Europe’s leading experts in endoscopy and is passionate about improving bowel cancer outcomes.

With support and input of colleagues within the NHS and Newcastle University - including Linda Sharp, professor of cancer epidemiology at Newcastle University and Dr Kyle Montague from Newcastle University’s Open Lab - Professor Rees has designed COLO-SPEED to create, “a North East led step change in bowel cancer research.”

He said: “We want to see research that used to take years happening within months. And to make sure it becomes of benefit to patients quickly.

“Essentially, COLO-SPEED will provide the structure to deliver new research projects far faster than we currently can. And we’ll do that with help from clinicians in regional endoscopy units and support from patients across the region.

“To use a football analogy, if you had to build the stadium and source the players and supporters every time you played a match, it would be a very slow process.

"Thanks to this funding from the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, COLO-SPEED will ensure everything we need is already in place when we have to find the answer to a question through targeted research.”

40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK each year - and 16,000 people die from the disease (44 every day).

Professor Rees added: “Most bowel cancer cases and deaths are preventable through a combination of making lifestyle changes, finding and removing polyps before they become cancerous, or by taking drugs like aspirin to help prevent polyps forming.

“Bowel cancer is a disease where we know we can make a real difference through targeted research and COLO-SPEED is something we believe will be a world-leading model for prevention and early diagnosis research. We’re very grateful to everyone who has donated to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation to help make it a reality."

As with all projects funded through the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, patients are at the heart of COLO-SPEED. Patients attending one of the 18 participating regional endoscopy centres, where polyps and cancer are diagnosed, will be given the opportunity to become a potential research participant.

Whitehaven and Carlisle regional endoscopy units are both participating in COLO-SPEED: