Cancer Research UK Grand Challenge award for BCI researchers

Zoe Leech Posted in BCI Spotlight Articles, Grants & Awards 10 February 2017


Professor John F Marshall has been announced as a member of one of the first global research teams to be recipients of Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge award.

Prof. John F Marshall

The Grand Challenge aims to help overcome the biggest challenges facing cancer research in a global effort to beat cancer sooner.

The winning four projects are set to revolutionise our understanding of cancer, and how to better prevent, diagnose and treat the disease. The international, multidisciplinary teams will bring together people, technology and knowledge on a scale that has never been known before in cancer.

Prof. Marshall and our Flow Cytometry manager Dr Rebecca Pike join the pioneering team led by Dr Josephine Bunch at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, in collaboration with other researchers based in London, Cambridge, Glasgow and the USA.

What's the plan?

They aim to create the equivalent of a ‘Google Earth’ for tumours powerful enough to not only identify a house and where it is in a country, but also who’s inside, what they’re eating and what’s on TV (see the infographic below).

In the same way cartographers build maps of cities, countries and the world to help people get around, scientists build maps of tumours to better understand their inner workings in the hope it will lead to new ways to diagnose and treat cancer.

The team will use a variety of new mass spectrometry imaging techniques to develop a new way to map tumours in unprecedented detail – from the whole tumour to individual molecules in cells.

Despite significant advances in technology and our understanding of cancer, our tumour maps remain incomplete. This work could therefore lead to new ways to diagnose and treat cancer.

They hope that by creating such detailed representations of these tumours, it will improve our understanding of cancer and allow us to identify new and better ways to diagnose and treat the disease.

Prof. Marshall said,

We are very excited to be part of a winning Grand Challenge team. It will be a huge privilege and pleasure to work with such a fantastic group of scientists in the Bunch Team to build a Google-like Map of Cancer.

The team will also create a database containing their data which will be available to researchers around the globe, and strive to create a standardised way for other scientists and doctors to use these new techniques in their work and in the clinic to help them look at other cancers in the same way and speed up discoveries.

Dr Bunch said:

This is the most exciting project I’ve ever been involved in. Thanks to Grand Challenge, we’ve been able to build a collective force of physicists, chemists and biologists - all coming together for the first time to map cancer in unprecedented detail.

Our goal is to find out how tumours survive and why they keep growing. By applying our powerful analysis techniques to this problem, we want to gain new insight into these fundamental processes and develop new and better ways to diagnose and treat cancer.

This new Cancer Research UK initiative has been overseen by a panel of world-leading researchers and chaired by Dr Rick Klausner, former director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
Dr Klausner said:

When we began the Grand Challenge we sought scientific adventurers - people willing to come together in new ways, to think differently, and bring novel approaches to answer the big questions in cancer. These unique teams have done just that.

Cancer is a complex, and often brutal disease. Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge is helping us change the way we to tackle it – bringing together different disciplines, ideas, and people on a global scale. We've got our sights set on the horizon of discovery, and I’m confident these Grand Challenge teams will lead to life-changing results.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said:

Cancer Research UK set up the Grand Challenge awards to bring a renewed focus and energy to the fight against cancer. We want to shine a light on the toughest questions that stand in the way of progress. We’re incredibly excited to be able to support these exceptional teams as they help us achieve our ambition.

Cancer Research UK set up Grand Challenge in 2015 and committed up to £100m to this new approach to help increase the pace of research.

Phase two of Grand Challenge, when Cancer Research UK plans to issue a set of second challenges, will launch this summer.

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