Dr Emma Vincent


Dr Emma Vincent’s research group studies the link between type 2 diabetes and cancer. We take a cross disciplinary approach to our research; using techniques in genetic epidemiology to guide our laboratory studies. To reflect this, our group sits across both Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Population Health Science at the University of Bristol.


People with type 2 diabetes (T2D) have an increased risk of getting and dying from certain types of cancer. Yet currently there are no cancer prevention and treatment strategies that are tailored to people with T2D.

People with T2D have abnormal levels of metabolites in their blood throughout disease development. We are particularly interested in how this might drive cancer promotion and progression. Cancer is a disease of reprogrammed metabolism and the metabolic abnormalities of the host circulation are likely intrinsically linked to the probability a cancer develops and the characteristics of the cancer cells. Given the dramatically increasing prevalence of T2D, both the associated elevated cancer risk and underlying biological basis for T2D associated tumorigenesis need to be defined. 


We aim to address which cancers develop as a result of the metabolic environment characteristic of T2D and how they do so. We hope this will in turn will reveal more relevant approaches for their prevention and treatment.


What metabolic traits, characteristic of T2D, are causally associated with specific cancers?

We use a technique in genetic epidemiology called Mendelian randomisation (MR) to determine which metabolic traits characteristic of T2D are causally associated with site-specific cancer. Causal traits are prioritised for subsequent mechanistic investigation in the laboratory. This approach provides a means to bypass difficulties in associating T2D with specific cancers that result from T2D being a heterogeneous disease composed of many metabolic traits with the contribution of traits varying from person to person. By first understanding the components of the T2D metabolic profile and testing their association with specific cancers this problem of heterogeneity is reduced.

Do the metabolic traits characteristic of T2D promote carcinogenesis by inducing reprogramming of metabolic pathways within tumour cells?

We focus on two cancer types where the existing evidence (including large systematic reviews and meta analyses) for T2D being a risk factor is compelling: colorectal cancer and pancreatic cancer. To characterise the effect of metabolic traits on carcinogenesis will use three approaches: (i) Determine the impact of the metabolic trait on tumour cell phenotype. (ii) Determine the impact of the metabolic trait on tumour cell metabolism, and (iii) target the metabolic pathways altered by the presence of the trait with the aim to reverse the effect of the trait on the phenotype. To do this we use a range of techniques to assess tumour cell phenotype, but critical to our work is the use of Stable Isotope Tracer Analysis (GCMS) and extracellular flux analysis to measure cancer cell metabolism.


Normal approaches to cancer prevention and therapy may not be appropriate or optimal for people with T2D. To enable effective ways to screen for and to prevent and treat the cancers that develop in people with T2D we need to understand what is it about the characteristics of T2D that causes specific cancers to develop. 

Selected publications

You can find further publications here

  1. Elsworth, B., Dawe, K., Vincent, E.E., Langdon, R., Lynch, B.M., Martin, R.M., Relton, C., Higgins, J.P.T., & Gaunt, T.R. MELODI - Mining Enriched Literature Objects to Derive Intermediates. International Journal of Epidemiology. 2018. 47(2): 369–379
  2. Griss, T., Vincent, E.E., Egnatchik, R., Chen, J., Ma, E.H., Faubert, B., Viollet, B., DeBerardinis, R.J., & Jones. R.G. Metformin antagonizes cancer cell proliferation by suppressing mitochondrial-dependent biosynthesis. PlosBiology. 2015: 13(12):e1002309.
  3. Vincent, E.E., Sergushichev, A., Griss, T., Gingras, M.C., Samborska, B., Ntimbane, T., Coelho, P.P., Blagih, J., Raissi, T.C., Choinière, L., Bridon, G., Loginicheva, E., Flynn, B.R., Thomas, E.C., Tavaré, J.M., Avizonis, D., Pause, A., Elder, D.J.E., Artyomov, M.N., & Jones R.G. Mitochondrial phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase regulates metabolic adaptation and enables glucose-independent tumor growth. Molecular Cell. 2015: 60(2):195-207.
  4. Blagih, J., Coulombe, F., Vincent, E.E., Dupuy, F., Galicia-Vázquez, G., Yurchenko, E., Raissi, T.C., van der Windt, G.J., Viollet, B., Pearce, E.L., Pelletier, J., Piccirillo, C.A., Krawczyk, C,M., Divangahi, M. & Jones, R,G. The energy sensor AMPK regulates T cell metabolic adaptation and effector responses in vivo. Immunity. 2015: 42(1)41-54.
  5. Vincent, E.E., Coelho, P.P., Blagih. J., Griss, T., Viollet, B., & Jones, R.G. ¬Differential effects of AMPK agonists on cell growth and metabolism. Oncogene. 2015: 34(28):3627-39


Diabetes UK

This circos plot shows that early signs of type 2 diabetes are visible in the serum metabolome of people susceptible to the disease as young as age 8.
This circos plot shows that early signs of type 2 diabetes are visible in the serum metabolome of people susceptible to the disease as young as age 8.
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