CANCER RESEARCH UK announced recently that it is funding three new international oncology research initiatives. Collectively, the teams have been awarded almost £60 million.
These 5-year research programs will investigate how the microbiome can be manipulated to treat bowel cancer, find new ways to tackle cancers linked to chronic inflammation, and understand why only certain cancers develop from genetic faults. These initiatives represent the approach Cancer Research UK is taking in bringing multidisciplinary teams of researchers from around the globe together to unite their talent, pool resources, and crack questions in cancer research.
For the first time, several major U.S. institutions will be leading these projects as part of the Grand Challenge competition, which first launched in 2015. They are the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the University of California, San Francisco.
Oncology Research Initiatives
INITIAL RESEARCH suggests that a person’s microbiome may be linked to bowel cancer and their response to treatment. The research team, composed of scientists from the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Spain, aims to understand the difference between a healthy microbiome and a microbiome associated with cancer and then find ways to manipulate the microorganisms to better prevent and treat cancer.
Matthew Meyerson, MD, PhD
Matthew Meyerson, MD, PhD, said: “Microbiome research has already thrown up a range of unexpected findings. For example, we’ve found certain bacteria that have spread with cancer cells to other parts of the body…. With new genomic technologies, we can map the microbiome in incredible detail, so now is the right time to be investigating this phenomenon of cancer.”
In another project, Thea Tisty, PhD, and collaborators from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Israel will unravel how chronic inflammation is linked to cancer. Recent work shows that the cells surrounding cancers can control whether or not the cancer grows or disappears. The aim of this work is to determine whether it’s possible to treat inflamed cells and noncancerous stromal cells rather than treating the cancer cells directly.
The third initiative focuses on the idea that carriers of potentially cancer-causing genetic mutations may have the fault in every cell of their body, but yet the disease may manifest in the breast or skin alone.
Stephen Elledge, PhD
Stephen Elledge, PhD, said: “We think the reason that specific genetic defects cause certain types of cancer comes down to the way different cell types are ‘wired’ and whether the tissue sees it as a ‘GO’ signal or not. We’re going to deconstruct what’s going on by switching cancer genes on and off and tracking the changes in normal, healthy cells from different organs. This will deepen our understanding of the very nature of cancer, and by using cutting-edge technologies like organoids, we hope to find new targets for cancer treatments in future.”
This project is supported in partnership with The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research. ■