Fran Balkwill plans to build the world’s first artificial tumour
In 2000, a team of archaeologists in the ancient Egyptian city of Thebes uncovered the mummified remains of a young woman called Tabaketenmut. The big toe of her right foot was missing. In its place was a wood and leather contraption tied to the limb with string, which researchers believe to be the earliest example of a prosthetic body part.
This rudimentary device – developed more than 2,000 years ago to help a woman walk – is often cited as one of the first and most primitive examples of bioengineering, the use of artificial components to replace damaged or absent parts of the body.
Today the term has a much broader meaning and includes disciplines such as materials science, biology, mathematics, engineering and computing. And we’ve come an incredibly long way since – thanks to primitive bioengineering – Tabaketenmut walked the earth.
Just last month, we heard the astonishing news that scientists have been able to grow a functioning kidney in the lab. And researchers in the US have developed a high-tech ‘lung on a chip’ to help them study infections and other diseases.
Now Cancer Research UK scientist Professor Fran Balkwill is looking to make a similarly monumental step forward in cancer biology by bioengineering the first ever three-dimensional artificial tumour.
She hopes the work will underpin the development of new treatments that attack the interactions between cancer cells and healthy tissues that unwittingly support them, known as the microenvironment.
MPS1 inhibitors block a molecule involved in cell division.
Last year we were extremely excited to launch an innovative fund to bring new cancer drugs to patients.
Today we’re pleased to reveal that the fund has given the green light to its first project, aimed at accelerating the development of a promising group of compounds called MPS1 inhibitors into effective new cancer drugs.
The £50 million fund has been developed to address the sobering reality that the process of turning promising investigational drugs into ‘real life’ treatments for cancer patients is very often unsuccessful. The fund, half of which is provided through our commercial company Cancer Research Technology (CRT), is central to our strategy to make sure that exciting drug discoveries don’t languish at the lab bench, but are given every chance to be transformed into future cancer cures.
Called the CRT Pioneer Fund, it’s being run by independent management firm Sixth Element Capital, who have spent the last few months selecting exciting drug discovery opportunities from around the country.
Read on to find out why work on MPS1 inhibitors by researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, piqued their interest and led to the first grant from the Pioneer Fund.