BOWEL cancer claims the lives of 44 people a day in the UK alone.

Rates of the disease, which affects 40,000 people a year, are particularly high in the North-East.

Men in this region have the highest bowel cancer incidence rates in England, while women are also in the upper half.

It’s something I myself know all too well – I watched my Grandad battle bowel cancer with his typical dignity and a stiff upper a lip for more than a year, before he lost his fight in April.

It’s an awful thing to have to watch, so the news that the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation will be pouring almost £1m into a new research and treatment project is more than welcome.

The Colorectal Cancer Screening Prevention Endoscopy and Early Diagnosis project, or COLO-SPEED, will aim to recruit 5,000 patients a year to speed up research into the disease.

Eighteen regional NHS endoscopy units, including the one at Hexham General Hospital, will be involved in the recruitment of patients for the £985,000 project.

It aims to create a world leading research hub for bowel cancer research in the North-East.

Large numbers of patients will be recruited, providing a research-ready resource to enable a large number of studies into the disease to be conducted at scale and speed.

Patients will be invited to provide personal details, core data, and consent for future contact regarding relevant studies.

They could also be asked to enter an active trial.

The project was designed by Colin Rees, professor of gastroenterology at Newcastle University and South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust.

Prof. Rees is one of Europe’s leading experts in endoscopy and is passionate about improving bowel cancer outcomes.

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.

“We’ll do that with help from clinicians in regional endoscopy units and support from patients across the region.

“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.”

Any patient attending one of the 18 endoscopy centres will be given the opportunity to become a research participant.

Another key component of COLO-SPEED will be a digital platform led by Newcastle University’s Open Lab, providing resources and tools to support the project that can be used to collect data.

Professor Rees added: “COLO-SPEED is something we believe will be a world-leading model for prevention and early diagnosis research.

“It is time that we used the research strength of the North-East and collaboration with patients to make a significant impact upon bowel cancer and stop as many people as we can suffering from and dying from this disease.”

Sir Bobby’s widow, Lady Elsie, added: “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.”