In 2019, we made our second largest grant – £985,000 – to fund COLO-SPEED, a ground-breaking bowel cancer research project.

Celebrating COLO-SPEED funding in 2019

Devised by a group of passionate bowel cancer researchers, COLO-SPEED stands for Colorectal Cancer Screening Prevention Endoscopy and Early Diagnosis.

It aims to be the world’s largest bowel cancer research platform, developing and delivering research alongside cancer screening, prevention and early diagnosis. And, despite the many challenges faced during the Covid pandemic, the project is well on course to delivering just that.

The ultimate aim of COLO-SPEED is to speed up research into bowel cancer, a disease that currently claims almost 16,000 lives in the UK each year. It is doing that by providing the necessary research structure and resources and by harnessing the enthusiasm of local endoscopy units to involve patients to participate.

Updating our trustees on COLO-SPEED

Our grant funds a programme manager, a nurse, an administration researcher and construction of a digital platform to collect data, feedback results and deliver ongoing engagement for patients participating in research.

The COLO-SPEED team is led by Professor Colin Rees, Professor of Gastroenterology at Newcastle University and consultant at South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, and Professor Linda Sharp, Professor of Cancer Epidemiology at Newcastle University.

Along with Christina Dobson, programme manager, they recently provided a full update to our trustees on all the promising research – currently nine different bowel cancer studies – enabled by COLO-SPEED.

Professor Rees, who is also President Elect British Society of Gastroenterology, says: “Bowel cancer affects and sadly kills too many people and, unfortunately, here in the North East we have particularly high levels of bowel cancer as well as poor outcomes.

Lady Elsie with Professor Colin Rees

“Through COLO-SPEED and the studies linked to it, we’re making a real difference and we’re so grateful to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation for funding what is world leading research. By enabling these ground-breaking studies and encouraging more patients to take part in research, we will eventually reduce the number of people affected by and dying from the disease.”

Studies enabled by COLO-SPEED include COLO-DETECT, cutting-edge research looking at how artificial intelligence could help save lives from bowel cancer.

Led by South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust and Newcastle University, COLO-DETECT involves nine other Trusts nationally – including four in the North East.

It is the largest trial of its kind in the world, and uses artificial intelligence equipment called GI Genius, created by Medtronic, alongside standard colonoscopy equipment.

Colonoscopies are used to diagnose cancer and pre-cancerous polyps within the bowel (colon). Finding and removing these polyps reduces the risk of people getting bowel cancer.

The artificial intelligence technology works by flagging up areas of concern that can often be missed by the human eye. The team then investigate these areas and remove any polyps – growths which could develop into cancer.

Jean and Derek Tyler

One of the patients who signed up to take part in COLO-DETECT was Jean Tyler, a retired careers advisor from South Shields. She was invited for a colonoscopy at South Tyneside District Hospital last year after the national bowel screening test for 56 to 74-year-olds sent to her home found blood in her poo.

Her colonoscopy, which was taken as part of the COLO-DETECT study, helped identify polyps. All of these polyps were confirmed to be non-cancerous, but the procedure did find another area of concern.

She then had a CT scan and key hole surgery, where the area of concern was found to be cancer and was removed. Thankfully, she was then declared clear of the disease and is undergoing follow-ups to monitor her.

The 75-year-old, who is married to Derek, said: “When they rang me up to make my appointment for my colonoscopy, I was asked if I would like to take part in this research.

“I always say yes to these research projects because I know that they can make things a lot better for everybody.

“The screening test had been sent through and I’d thought ‘I can’t be bothered’. Then four or five days later I realised what it was and I thought I’d better make sure. I’m so glad I did do it. I would say to anyone make sure you do yours too.”

Jean added her praise to the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust team who took great care of her.

Other North East Trusts which have been involved in COLO-DETECT are North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

For more details, visit and information on the symptoms, treatment and causes of bowel cancer can be found through: