STORMing Cancer shortlisted for Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge Award

Bethan Warman Posted in General News, Grants & Awards 08 February 2018

The world’s most ambitious cancer research grant

CRUK GC PERSONALISED SIG 20182

STORMing Cancer, a team of multi-disciplinary scientists including our own Dr Stuart McDonald, from the Centre for Tumour Biology, has been shortlisted to the final stages of Cancer Research UK (CRUK)’s Grand Challenge Award- the world’s most ambitious cancer research grant consisting of a series of £20 million awards seeking researchers to tackle cancer’s toughest challenges.

In their proposed project, the team led by Professor Thea Tlsty, University of California, aim to use oesophageal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease-associated colon cancer as models to determine the links between chronic inflammation and cancer development. Dr Stuart McDonald’s work will focus on Barrett’s oesophagus (BE) - a condition in which chronic inflammation leads to the development of pre-cancerous lesions.

Although inflammation is the body’s first defence against infection and injury, chronic inflammation- when the immune system fails to limit itself and inflammation is sustained- is involved in 20-25% of cancers. However, it is not fully understood how chronic inflammation contributes to cancer.

CRUK GC shortlistBE is common in the UK but only 0.5% of patients will develop oesophageal cancer- in which only 15% of patients survive for five years or more. Currently, it is not possible to predict which cases will undergo this cancerous transformation or identify patients at risk. Understanding the mechanisms involved is hoped to enable the recognition of pre-malignant lesions that will progress to cancer and allow the development of novel therapies to prevent and revert chronic inflammation-associated cancers.

'Trojan Horse' strategy

If successful, the team intends to exploit the interactions between cancer cells and their environment. The team will engineer cells that interact with the inflamed tissues that surround the pre-cancerous lesions or tumour tissue to carry and deliver drugs to the tumour site. As the engineered cells will be familiar to the tumour, this ‘Trojan Horse’ strategy will be less likely to trigger survival mechanisms in the tumour cells upon drug delivery.

Dr Stuart McDonald said:

Exploiting the interaction between stromal and epithelial cells as a novel means of drug delivery in inflammation-associated cancers is an exciting avenue of research and this Grand Challenge will encompass a multidisciplinary approach to achieve this goal. It will also further our basic understanding of how stroma and the epithelium co-evolve in the cancer process allowing us to predict patient outcome.

This award brings together top scientists from around the world, providing them with the means to explore novel techniques in a global effort to overcome the most difficult challenges in cancer research. The team will receive seed-funding of up to £30,000 to draft their full research proposal before the winning proposal is announced in autumn 2018. We wish STORMing Cancer the best of luck in the final stage!

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