Their work could directly lead to the development drug therapies to halt these diseases at the very earliest stages of diagnosis.
Dr Bing Hu (pictured), associate professor in oral and dental health research at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, leads the team.
The project will last for three years and has received funding of almost half a million pounds.
Planar Cell Polarity (PCP) is a fundamental cellular mechanism that controls growth and development by aligning cells and tissues.
Scientists know that a defect in PCP contributes to many human diseases, and that changes in PCP are often the earliest cellular events that lead to conditions such as cancer.
Dr Hu said: ‘This work is potentially very exciting – it could allow us to develop novo early diagnosis tools and therapies that could disrupt this disease-contributing mechanism at the very earliest stages of cancer.
‘Not only would this greatly improve the quality of life and life expectancy for patients, but it would also significantly reduce clinical costs: for example, currently in the UK the total annual cost to treat cancer patients is more than £15 billion.’
Little is understood about the mechanism behind these changes and the role of PCP genes.
If scientists can discover how the mechanism works, the way may be open for the development of drug therapies to treat PCP-related diseases.
Using the funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council the research team from Plymouth aims to advance knowledge about the mechanism and screen chemical compounds which may be developed into effective drug therapies.
The research will also help to better understand why some people with one kind of PCP-related disease are more susceptible to other kinds of diseases, particularly cancer.
Dr Hu added: ‘By also screening chemical compounds as part of this project we can use our work to identify possible drug therapies for the future.
‘The direct link between what we plan to do in the laboratory and the potential for future treatments, in other words: translational biomedical research, is extremely exciting.’