Researchers at Queen's University in Belfast have discovered a ground-breaking new treatment for bowel cancer which may improve survival rates for patients around the world.

The new therapeutic process, which is believed to be the first of its kind, targets and kills bowel cancer cells.

The research has been published in the journal of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics.

The discovery was led by Dr Nicholas Forsythe, Professor Sandra Van Schaeybroeck and the late Professor Patrick Johnston.

It is hoped that following further clinical trials, the process could lead to more effective treatment for certain bowel cancer patients who present with poor survival outcomes.

The study compared two groups of patients one year after their diagnosis.

They included patients with a poor survival outcome and those who are resistant to cancer treatments.

The three-year research project looked specifically at "gene signatures" to identify whether the stress-response pathway of a specific bunch of cells could be a new target for treatment.

Dr Forsythe said: "This research focused on an aggressive subgroup of colon cancers known as 'Braf mutants'. These cancers are not only extremely aggressive, but they do not respond well to conventional cancer treatments.

"Unfortunately, this means patients diagnosed with a Braf mutant cancer have a very poor prognosis."

Braf mutations occur in about 10% of bowel cancer cases.

"Our research has identified a cellular process that can be exploited in order to kill these cancer cells," Dr Forsythe said.

"Essentially, we can take advantage of the aggressive biology of these cancers and use it against them."

Dr Forsythe added that using a specific combination of drugs the team were able to stress these cells to a point where they could no longer survive, dying in a process known as apoptosis; a form of cell suicide.

The researchers said the next step will be to explore new drugs that could ultimately change the survival outcome for these patients.