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Let's beat cancer sooner

© Greg Harding

From the mechanics behind fast-moving melanoma cells to cancer’s very own (and very complex) family tree, we’ve picked a handful of important research discoveries to share from the last 12 months.

It’s thanks to all our supporters that we’re able to fund this research, and discoveries like these are opening up vital new ways of tackling cancer.

1. Stopping cancer in its tracks

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Melanoma cells move quickly, which is why the disease is tough to treat once tumour cells have spread around the body. Finding ways to stop this is a major focus for our scientists.

Research with fluorescent fish showed us that some slower-moving melanoma cells might hitch a ride on faster ones to spread.

And a study looking at how these tumour cells stay on track revealed a chemical ‘breadcrumb trail’ that the melanoma cells lay for themselves while they’re on the move.

But just being nimble isn’t enough. Melanoma cells also need to be flexible, and change shape to squeeze through gaps between tissues as they spread. Our researchers showed one way this shape-shifting ability is controlled in melanoma cells to keep them going.

Crucially, these studies could all help turn some of a melanoma’s greatest strengths into weaknesses. And our researchers will keep tracking these cells in search of new ways to target the disease.

2. Making treatment personal

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New treatments must be safe and an improvement on what’s already out there. And to show this you need a clinical trial.

But we’ve seen the face of clinical trials change a lot in recent years, including several studies we fund that are aiming to test several different treatments at the same time.

Our Matrix trial for lung cancer is one of these, offering treatments to different groups of patients based on the genetic make-up of their cancer.

3. Attacking the trunk of cancer’s ‘family tree’

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As the tools for genetic analysis become more advanced they reveal an increasingly complex picture of how a cancer grows and changes over time.

This complex ‘family tree’ was documented in unprecedented detail by our scientists working on lung cancer. And they’ve now extended this analysis to more tumours as they begin penning an evolutionary ‘rule book’ for cancer.

The hope? To one day make predictions about how a tumour will grow, staying a step ahead of it and being able to offer the best treatments for that patient’s disease.

4. Drug resistance is futile

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A sad truth is that in some cases a patient’s cancer will stop responding to the treatments available to them. The challenge of drug resistance is a big one. But our researchers are making progress.

A team of our scientists in London discovered that healthy blood vessel cells may be encouraging treatment resistance via a cellular communication molecule called FAK.

Researchers are also turning to blood samples as a potential new way to gather precious cancer cells to study drug resistance. For lung cancer, these ‘liquid biopsies’ are showing great promise, as we explored recently when we visited a team of our scientists in Manchester.

5. Tackling the toughest research challenges

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In our ambitious research strategy we laid out plans to tackle lung, brain, oesophageal and pancreatic cancers, which have seen little improvement in survival figures over recent decades.

This year we’ve more than doubled the amount of money we spend on lung cancer research, and upped our pancreatic cancer spend from £6m last year to £15m this year. We held the world’s first international meeting of oesophageal cancer experts, and world-leading brain cancer researcher, Professor Richard Gilbertson, joined us from the US as head of the Cambridge Cancer Centre.

And our researchers have already begun making progress in boosting our understanding of these diseases.

They have redefined pancreatic cancer as at least for different types, and begun unravelling the genetic chaos fuelling lung cancer.

Our scientists in Cambridge have taken the next steps towards developing a new test that could help diagnose oesophageal cancer earlier when treatments are more likely to be successful.

And researchers have shown how a modified version of a brain cancer drug could help overcome resistance to treatment.

Each of these discoveries advances our understanding of cancer, uncovering potential new ways to diagnose and target these diverse diseases.

And each discovery is rooted in the generous donations from our supporters. For that we say thank you.

Nick

Comments

Hugh Gardenier November 10, 2015

How about myelofibrosis?

Lynn Ebury August 28, 2015

My brother Kev died of lung cancer which spread to his brain last february. (20/2/14). Had he lived, he would have been 58 on 29/3/14. he was only 16 months older than me. What a pity this wasn’t around before. at least there is hope for others. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

Mark Avery August 24, 2015

My daughter,her friend,and her friend’s mum,recently took part in ‘Race for life’,in support of Cancer Research UK.I was really proud of her!Keep up the excellent work,and continue the battle. But I agree with one of the previous comments;the government should contribute more,enabling even more research,and hopefully becoming closer to the success rates of our European colleagues.

Jan Hamilton August 22, 2015

Very interesting and encouraging to learn of the work being done in the fight against cancer. Even better to hear of the progress being made. Thank you to all involved in this research who work so tirelessly.

Laura Martin August 22, 2015

Love getting these updates. They allow me to pass information on to people who have been diagnosed with Cancer to reassure them that so much is being discovered all the time.

Sophie Bingham August 21, 2015

In the ten years that my (then 32) beloved brother died from melanoma having received superb treatment at the Royal Marsden in Chelsea, It’s so encouraging to learn the significant progress that has been made for those with the disease diagnosed stage 3+ . Carry on with the good work , I salute you.

Frances Lee August 21, 2015

It is encouraging that progress is being made. We do need our government to contribute more to medical research and not leave it to the pharmaceuticals!

Dr Trace Allen August 21, 2015

Hello, I remain disappointed at the lack of resource and priority CRUK is applying to Pancreatic Cancer—mentioned in your text tho’ as far as I know and I may be out of date. Last year I retired as Chair of PCUK having sought partnership during my 6 years as Chair with CRUK.

I know that there have been some fruits from the relationship between CRUK and PCUK though I remain disappointed in the amount of attention given to date.

Please tell me I am incorrect in my assertions.

Nick Peel August 21, 2015

Hi Miss Oseni,

Thanks for your comment and support. We’re really sorry to hear about your diagnosis.

For the new immunotherapy treatments you have mentioned, there is still a lot of research to be done to find out which types of cancer will respond to the treatments and who would benefit from them. And no treatment is without side effects, including immunotherapies. At the moment, these treatments have only been proven effective in lung cancer and melanoma. You can read more about the latest research on immunotherapies here.

New treatments can also only be made available on the NHS once they’ve been shown to be effective in clinical trials, and once an assessment has been made about how cost effective the treatment is for the health service. We have been doing a lot of work to encourage the Government to develop a more flexible approach to funding new cancer drugs so newer types of treatment, such as immunotherapies, can be given to everyone who will benefit in the future.

If you would like to speak to someone about your situation you can contact one of our Cancer Information Nurses for free on 0808 800 40 40 or via this online form.

Best wishes,
Nick, Cancer Research UK

Jennifer Brown August 21, 2015

Good explanation of how the research is progressing. Insight into the cancer becoming resistant. The opportunity for trials (I am a trial patient).
It’s reassuring to know that slowly progress is being made so one day we will beat cancer.

judith stobbart August 21, 2015

the increase in funding for pancreatic research funding is welcome and brilliant news

Andrene Skinner August 20, 2015

We have a long way to go in our efforts to combat cancer but we must not slow down our research. It is vital we do all we can to attract more young scientists to join the wonderful people who are making such good progress at this time.

Mr Brian James MacKintosh August 20, 2015

I think this is one of the best research topics we have had and very easy to understand also you can look at any of the cancers by the click of your mouse,

Greta Lyons August 20, 2015

All these improvement s are fantStic and. Tribute to the work by research. Very little is heard of blood cancers,particularly the in curable ones- any movement on these??