Sir Bobby Robson Foundation funds new £985,000 project aimed at speeding up bowel cancer research

Sir Bobby Robson had his own lengthy battle with cancer before he died Credit: PA Images

A new £985,000 research project has been launched in an effort to tackle the North East's particularly high bowel cancer rates.

The North East region has the highest rates of bowel cancer for men in England. Figures for women are also high.

Funded by the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, the Colorectal Cancer Screening Prevention Endoscopy and Early Diagnosis project - or COLO-SPEED for short - will seek to boost research into the disease.

Professor Colin Rees, Professor of Gastroenterology at Newcastle University and South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust , said a lot of the project was about speeding up the research.

He said: "We want to see research that used to take years happening within months. And to make sure it becomes of benefits 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.

Professor Colin Rees
40,000

The number of people diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK each year.

16,000

The number of deaths annually from bowel cancer; this equates to 44 every day.

Bowel cancer rates vary across the country although the North East has the highest incidence rates for men. Women are in the upper half of the table for incidence rates.

Survival rates for men and women in the North East are amongst the lowest in the country.

COLO-SPEED will see 18 regional NHS endoscopy units across the North East recruiting up to 5,000 patients a year to speed up research into the disease.

Lady Elsie, Sir Bobby Robson's widow, is hopeful the project can make a difference to people across the region Credit: PA Images (2011)

Lady Elsie, Sir Bobby Robson's widow, said she was pleased at the enthusiasm for the project and was hopeful it would make a difference to people's lives across the North East.

She said: "Bob's aim when he began our Foundation was to fund research that he could see would make a difference, not just here in the North East, but around the world.

"All of our trustees were impressed by the potential of COLO-SPEED to do just that. As ever, it will need to be a great team effort to succeed and, through Professor Rees, we know there's a wonderful enthusiasm from across the whole region to get involved in this project."

The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation launched in 2008 with the aim of finding more effective ways of detecting and treating cancer.