Last month Cancer Research UK announced that it had awarded significant grants to several projects under its Grand Challenge Scheme. This scheme was set up by CRUK to fund ‘game changing research’ to try to address some of the leading problems in cancer research.
Seven grand challenge topics were set:
- Challenge 1 – Develop vaccines to prevent non-viral cancers.
- Challenge 2 – Eradicate EBV-induced cancers from the world.
- Challenge 3 – Discover how unusual patterns of mutation are induced by different cancer-causing events.
- Challenge 4 – Distinguish between lethal cancers that need treating, and non-lethal cancers that don’t.
- Challenge 5 – Find a way of mapping tumours at the molecular and cellular level.
- Challenge 6 – Develop innovative approaches to target the cancer super-controller MYC.
- Challenge 7 – Deliver biologically active macromolecules to any and all cells in the body.
The intention was to fund one project, but CRUK were so inspired by the applications that from a total of 56 bids, a total of 4 international teams have received funding of up to £20 million over five years.
- Professor Sir Mike Stratton, Principal Investigator – Identifying preventable causes of cancer
- Professor Greg Hannon, Principal investigator – Creating virtual reality maps of tumours
- Dr Jelle Wesseling, Principal Investigator – Preventing unnecessary breast cancer treatment
- Dr Josephine Bunch, Principal investigator – Studying tumour metabolism from every angle
Professor Mike Stratton’s team are working on identifying preventable causes of cancer by studying DNA mutational fingerprints from patients. Changes can occur in the DNA due to damage caused by environmental factors such as UV exposure or lifestyle behaviours like smoking and drinking alcohol. These leave a ‘scar’ in the DNA. The causes of some mutational fingerprints have already been identified (as shown in the figure) but there are many more where the causes are currently unknown.
This ambitious project plans to study patient samples from over five continents to attempt to identify causes of more of these fingerprints in the hope that many common cancers may be prevented.
This research could also be extremely important in the longer term for oncology drug discovery. By gaining more information about the causes of DNA damage and how it is repaired, as well as identifying the early mutations that drive tumour growth, new targets for cancer treatments could be identified.
Blog written by Sarah Walker