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10 February, 2017 - 08:32 By Kate Sweeney

Cambridge heads £100m global fight against cancer

cancer, wellcome trust sanger institute, astraZeneca, Cambridge

Several Cambridge scientists and researchers are among the first recipients of funding under a £100 million global challenge designed to find new cures for killer cancers.

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, AstraZeneca, Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute and Cambridge University departments feature in four initial projects, together worth £71m, being run by international teams as part of Cancer Research UK’s £100m Grand Challenge.

Professor Sir Mike Stratton at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, is one of the key figures in the global consortia that collectively form the largest global force ever to be arraigned against the disease.

The initiative has been overseen by a panel of world-leading researchers chaired by Dr Rick Klausner, former director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute. They include cancer researchers, doctors, engineers, physicists, behavioural scientists, epidemiologists, technologists and patients.

The winning projects are designed to revolutionise understanding of cancer and enable medics to better prevent, diagnose and treat the disease in the future.

The international, multidisciplinary teams will be using unparalleled approaches to help develop pioneering solutions to some of cancer’s major challenges.

The four winning teams will:-

1 – Study cancer samples from five continents to understand the DNA damage associated with different cancers, to understand what causes them and if they can be prevented. The project will be led by Professor Stratton with collaborators from France, the US and UK. Worth up to £20m, the project is of epic scale – spanning five continents and 5,000 patient samples. Stratton’s team want to build a much deeper understanding of DNA damage – what causes it and how it leads to cancer. They want to identify as yet unknown causes of cancer, determine which ones are due to environmental exposures and lifestyle behaviours, and figure out exactly how they cause cancer.

2 – Distinguish between those women with DCIS (a condition that can develop into breast cancer) who need treatment and those who don’t, to reduce overtreatment of the condition. This £15m project will be led by Dr Jelle Wesseling at the Netherlands Cancer Institute with collaborators from the US, UK and Netherlands. Co-investigators include Dr Serena Nik-Zainal from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

3 – Develop a way to combine new and existing technologies to create virtual representations of tumours, and a global database that catalogues their genetic make-up and metabolism, which could lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the disease. This £16m project will be led by Dr Josephine Bunch at the National Physical Laboratory, London, with collaborators from the US and multiple UK research centres. Co-investigators include Dr Richard Goodwin and Dr Simon Barry of Cambridge-headquartered AstraZeneca UK and Professor Kevin Brindle from Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.

4 – Create a virtual reality 3D tumour map which will allow scientists and doctors to examine – for the first time and in unprecedented detail – the cellular and molecular make-up of a patient’s entire tumour to improve diagnosis and treatment for the disease. This £20m project will be led by Professor Greg Hannon at the University of Cambridge, with collaborators from Switzerland, Ireland, Canada, the US and UK. 
Co-investigators include Professors Sir Shankar Balasubramanian, Carlos Caldas and Simon Tavaré plus Dr Darrio Bressan from Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute; and Dr Nicholas Walton, Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Cancer Research UK set up the Grand Challenge awards to bring a renewed focus and energy to the fight against cancer. 

“We want to shine a light on the toughest questions that stand in the way of progress. We’re incredibly excited to be able to support these exceptional teams as they help us achieve our ambition.

“Cancer is a global problem, and these projects are part of the global solution. Together, we will redefine cancer – turning it from a disease that so many people die from, to one that many people can live with. We will reduce the number of people worldwide affected by cancer and achieve our goal of beating cancer sooner.”

Phase two of the initiative, when Cancer Research UK plans to issue a set of revised challenges, will launch this summer.

Kiss Communications

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