We are pleased to welcome two new members of academic staff to the BCI- Professor Victoria Sanz-Moreno, joining us from King’s College, London, and Professor Kamil R Kranc, joining us from the University of Edinburgh.
Professor Sanz-Moreno, Professor of Cancer Cell Biology, will be joining our Centre for Cancer & Inflammation, funded by Barts Charity, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and the Harry J. Lloyd Charitable Trust. Her group’s work focusses on how tumour cells spread around the body, in a process known as metastasis- one of the biggest causes of cancer mortality.
The team look at the role of specific proteins that modify the cytoskeleton (a structure that helps cells to maintain their shape) and control the processes that are necessary for cancer cells to migrate and disseminate efficiently. In particular, the team are looking at a family of signalling proteins called Rho GTPases, which act as molecular switches that control remodelling of the cytoskeleton.
By developing 3-dimensional systems combined with animal models and patient tissue analysis to study metastasis, the team can look at the interactions between cancer cells and the tumour microenvironment. These models make it possible to manipulate the cytoskeleton of cancer cells, and subsequently analyse the impact of these changes on surrounding cells. Much of their work has focussed on these processes in melanoma, a very aggressive cancer of the skin.
As well as studying metastatic dissemination, the team are also investigating how Rho GTPases and cytoskeletal remodelling contribute to drug resistance and tumour promoting inflammation. The team’s ultimate aim is to determine whether manipulations of the cytoskeleton in cancer cells can improve the efficacy of cancer therapies.
Prof Sanz-Moreno said: “We are very excited to join Barts Cancer Institute. Our lab is of a very collaborative nature, so we are looking forward to possible interactions with the wonderful community of scientists at BCI. We want to expand certain observations we have made in melanoma to pancreatic, breast and ovarian cancers. We believe we are in the perfect environment to develop our scientific goals and to find new therapies to target the cytoskeleton of cancer cells.”
Professor Kranc, Clinical Professor of Haematology, and his team will join our Centre for Haemato-Oncology. Professor Kranc’s Group has a particular interest in finding curative treatments for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), an aggressive blood cancer that arises from normal blood stem cells. They are funded by CRUK (both Programme Grant and Senior Fellowship), Bloodwise, Medical Research Council, Barts Charity and The Kay Kendall Leukaemia Fund.
Blood stem cells reside in the bone marrow and produce all the functional blood cells required to sustain life in a process known as haematopoiesis. Under pathological conditions, blood stem cells can acquire genetic changes that transform them into cancer stem cells, which drive the development of AML and fuel the disease. Current therapies target the leukaemic bulk of the disease but fail to eliminate the cancer stem cells. As such, the cancer stem cells remain in the body following treatment and drive disease relapse, with devastating consequences to patients.
Professor Kranc and his team will be focussing on this area of unmet clinical need by investigating the role of RNA modifications and the molecular pathways they regulate in haematopoiesis, and how they contribute to blood malignancy. By better understanding the processes that lead to the development of cancer stem cells, the team aim to identify novel ways to eliminate these treatment-resistant cells and treat AML more effectively.
The research will bring together internationally-recognised scientists from London, Manchester, Glasgow, Basel, Tours, Oxford and Edinburgh, including Professor Dónal O’Carroll, Head of Institute for Stem Cell Research, University of Edinburgh, who is a co-investigator on the newly awarded CRUK Programme grant.
Prof Kranc said: “My entire team and I are delighted to join the Barts Cancer Institute. We are very excited about the opportunity for productive collaborations with clinical haematologists, oncologists and basic scientists studying different cancers. Working in this excellent cancer research environment, we will be extremely well placed to identify new therapeutic targets to effectively treat blood malignancies, as well as to explore their significance in solid tumours.”