Investigating the ovarian cancer microenvironment

Marianne Baker Posted in Grants & Awards 25 April 2013

Congratulations to Professor Frances Balkwill, who has successfully secured 5 years' funding from Cancer Research UK to study the ovarian cancer microenvironment at the Centre for Cancer and Inflammation - confirmed on April 24th.


The Centre for Cancer and Inflammation focuses particularly on the interaction between cancer cells and their environment in the body. The importance of this "chatter" between malignant and normal cells has come to the forefront of cancer research in recent years.

Cancer cells can communicate with their surroundings by direct or indirect contact; indirect communication can involve chemical messengers such as cytokines, which influence other cells to behave in certain ways. It is now accepted that the tumour microenvironment, including the infiltration of immune cells and chemical messaging via cytokines (collectively known as inflammation), is as important a target as the cancer cells themselves when it comes to our understanding of cancer and treatment development.

One focus of our research at the BCI is ovarian cancer, a disease that affects thousands of women every year in the UK alone, which has a complex microenvironment.

Purpose of the grantmic_scope

The aim of the work to be funded by this award is to improve the survival of patients with high-grade serous ovarian cancer. We hope to achieve this by targeting the tumour microenvironment of the peritoneal metastases (areas of cancer spread around the abdominal cavity) that usually occur early in this disease.

This will involve experiments that will enable us to characterise this human tumour microenvironment, including the development of models that accurately resemble the human disease. We have unique pre-clinical and clinical experience in the role of inflammatory cytokines in ovarian cancer.

This experience, together with knowledge of other promising tumour microenvironment targets gained during our current CRUK programme, means we can use these strengths to evaluate novel combination therapies that we hope to translate to the clinic.

Professor Balkwill adds:

"I am very excited about this research that we will be doing over the next five years! Also I am very grateful to my own research team and all my colleagues who helped in the preparation of the grant application."

We look forward to sharing the results of this new research project, which will no doubt greatly improve our understanding of the tumour microenvironment in ovarian cancer.

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