BCI success in Academy of Medical Sciences grant awards

Zoe Leech Posted in Grants & Awards 13 May 2016

Three researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have been awarded £100,000 each by the Academy of Medical Sciences. Two are here at BCI, both in our Centre for Tumour Biology: Dr Paulo Ribeiro and Dr Angus Cameron.

Paulo Ribeiro, Sian Henson and Angus Cameron

The grants are designed to support researchers in the first years of their independent career with funds, training and mentoring. Award applications were limited to three per university and QMUL was the only university out of over 100 applications to be awarded all three grants.

In cancer, tumour cells interact with many other cell types in their environment including fibroblasts, immune cells and blood vessel cells. All of these interactions can contribute to cancer growth and spread (metastasis). Angus Cameron’s grant is for the study of cancer-associated fibroblasts (CAFs) that produce collagen and other proteins. By targeting normal fibroblasts, they hope to sidestep drug resistance associated with targeting cancer cells specifically. Angus said:

We will focus on defining the role of a poorly studied protein kinase, PKN2, in CAFs. Fibroblasts have been particularly implicated in helping cancer cells to invade and spread around the body. The novel idea we have is to change the way host fibroblasts interact with malignant cancer cells in order to make tumours less invasive.

The balance between proliferation (growth and cell division), differentiation (specialisation) and death regulates tissue growth during development and adult life. Understanding the mechanisms that regulate tissue growth is essential if we are to know how tissue homeostasis (maintenance) works and how developmental defects and cancer are prevented. Paulo Ribeiro’s grant will fund a project studying these mechanisms, work that may in the future be translated into novel ways of targeting cancer cells. Paulo said:

Tissue growth is tightly connected with tissue structure; cell polarity is essential in tissue architecture and defects cause deregulated tissue growth. However, exactly how polarity regulates growth is still unclear, particularly following tissue damage when tissues need to be repaired.

Although we have visited Paulo's lab before, he explained:

Using the fruit fly Drosophila as a model organism, we will investigate how the polarity protein Crumbs controls the coordination between cell polarity and tissue growth. We will answer this crucial question using a combination of genetic and biochemical approaches to study the genes regulated by Crumbs.

Professor Robert Lechler, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, said:

Biomedical researchers within the early years of starting a lecturer post are at a key stage of their career, where the right support can make a great difference. Establishing an independent research programme as an early stage researcher is challenging, and failure to acquire start up funds can result in loss of talented staff.

To date, the Academy of Medical Sciences has supported clinician scientists and clinical lecturers as they start their independent research careers. I am delighted that we can now extend this support to biomedical scientists through the Springboard scheme.

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