Researcher of the Year Awards: saving lives from bowel cancer

Health news

Dr Nick West of the Faculty of Medicine and Health fought off tough competition to be named the 2011 University of Leeds Postgraduate Researcher of the Year.

His project was one of nine outstanding presentations made at the University's SHOWCASE conference on 13 December. The Awards aim to celebrate the quality and impact of the work of postgraduate researchers at Leeds. Each Faculty put forward a nominee for the award based upon the impact or potential impact of their research projects in the academic world and their wider societal and economic benefits.

The winning projects

Dr West worked under the supervision of Professor Phil Quirke in the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine (LIMM). His research investigated the importance of surgical technique in patients undergoing bowel cancer surgery. By assessing the quality and amount of material removed during the operation and analysing the relationship of this to patient survival, Dr West was able to deduce that improved surgical technique could increase the survival rate.

Good surgery was identified as more meticulous and involved removing more normal material around the cancer. This accounted for around one third of bowel cancer operations undertaken in Leeds. These good operations resulted in 15% more patients surviving for at least five years when compared to the poorer operations.

This research suggests that surgical training programmes should improve the quality of bowel cancer surgery and therefore patient survival. A move towards better bowel cancer surgery, could improve the number of patients surviving for at least five years after bowel cancer surgery from 62% to 89%. That translates into approximately 7,000 lives which could potentially be saved every year in the UK, and many more worldwide.

The work stimulated collaborative research with world leading bowel cancer centres in order to identify the optimal surgical techniques. Dr West subsequently published studies in leading cancer journals with groups in Germany and Japan showing that excellent surgery can result in up to 89% of patients surviving for five years. Following these studies, the Danish Government funded a national compulsory surgical education programme to improve the quality of bowel cancer surgery in Denmark. Early results suggest that quality has markedly improved and this should be associated with a significant improvement in patient survival. Yorkshire Cancer Research have subsequently agreed to fund a similar training programme for the Yorkshire region of the UK in July 2012.

Much of the research conducted to date has been published in high impact peer reviewed journals including Lancet Oncology and Journal of Clinical Oncology. Dr West has presented this work at numerous national and international meetings and was awarded the Royal College of Pathologists histopathology research medal and the British Oncological Association young investigator of the year award in 2010.

Dr West commented:

"It is a great honour to receive this award, particularly in light of the very high standard of competitors. Bowel cancer is a common disease and over the last few years we have developed a strong international collaborative research group led by Leeds. Our work is already starting to change practice around the world and it is expected that this will make a real difference to patient survival over the next few years."

Second place was awarded to Aisling Dolan from the Faculty of Environment for her research into ice sheet stability to predict future climate and environmental change. Third place was awarded jointly to Kevin Macnish (Faculty of Arts) for his work on ethics and the use of surveillance, and Nicole Timms (Faculty of Biological Sciences) for her research into the modification of enzymes which could lead to new pharmaceutical applications.

Research excellence

Professor Paul Harrison, Dean of Postgraduate Research Studies commented:

"The quality of submissions for the awards has been very impressive. It is a pleasure to see the work of our top postgraduate research students being showcased. They are the life-blood of the research community here at Leeds, and they make an invaluable contribution to international academic communities, and provide economic and societal benefits in a huge variety of ways. Congratulations to all nominees and award winners."

For more information on the Awards please contact Tony Bromley at the University of Leeds on 0113 3432531 or email or visit the awards webpage

For more information on the work of Dr Nick West please contact the Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine at: or visit the LIMM webpages

For further information:

Please contact the University of Leeds Press Office on +44 (0)113 343 4031 or email