Genetic data can help predict breast cancer risk
Cancer Research UK has been funding cutting-edge research for more than 100 years.
As we’ve explained, cancer research is a careful and painstaking process. While it’s often relatively easy to see the impact of, say, a clinical trial for a new treatment, it generally takes years of research and testing even to get that far.
So, often it’s only with the benefit of hindsight that we can see how research into a tiny molecule or a specific gene ends up making a difference.
In this series of posts, we’ll be picking out some of the most important discoveries and breakthroughs that we’ve been involved in – from fundamental cancer biology to clinical trials and population studies – to explain how they’ve made a major impact on our mission to beat cancer.
There is a separate page explaining how we’ve chosen the papers we’ll be covering in the series.
So in no particular order, we turn first to a fascinating piece of gene research from 2002.
The BRAF gene is faulty in most cases of melanoma skin cancer
Continuing our series on Cancer Research UK-funded science that has made a big impact, we turn to BRAF – a gene that is faulty in up to 7 out of 10 malignant melanomas and many other cancers.
“Mutations of the BRAF gene in human cancer” by Helen Davies, Graham Bignell and their colleagues in the UK, USA, Australia, Italy and Hong Kong, was published in the journal Nature in 2002. The research was funded by Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust, The Institute of Cancer Research, Regione Autonoma della Sardegna and Breakthrough Breast Cancer, working together as part of the Cancer Genome Project.
This publication was the first major success for the Cancer Genome Project – an ambitious attempt to search for every human gene that stops working properly in cancer cells. The publication sparked a surge of interest in BRAF, which has thrown up exciting new leads for cancer drugs of the future.
To explain more about this research, we’ve put together a short film featuring Professor Richard Marais – one of the scientists involved in the original discovery – and Professor Caroline Springer, who is developing drugs to target BRAF.
Read on to find out more about BRAF and its impact.
Kaposi’s sarcoma is a cancer that causes patches of abnormal tissue to grow
Cancer and AIDS – two of the most powerful and emotive words in the English language, and two diseases that touch the lives of millions of people across the world. Many researchers dedicate their lives to studying them.
Cancer Research UK is working tirelessly towards beating cancer. And thanks to our pioneering work, countless lives have already been saved.
Of course, as no doubt anybody reading this is aware, we’re not an AIDS charity. But in this post – the fourth in our series of High-Impact Science – we’re stepping back in time to the 1980s, when one of our scientists helped solve a complex medical mystery with implications for both AIDS and cancer.
Professor Sir David Lane discovered p53 thirty years ago
Since its discovery by Professor Sir David Lane – Cancer Research UK’s chief scientist – in the 1970s, a small molecule called p53 has revolutionised our understanding of how cells, including cancer cells, grow and divide.
p53 was the first natural ‘tumour suppressor’ found within our cells – something that usually acts to protect us from cancer. We now know that p53 is faulty or inactivated in the majority of human cancers and a wide range of different functions have been ascribed to it.
As part of our series of High-Impact science stories, we’ll look at how p53 was discovered, and the impact this has had on cancer research.
To start off, here’s a short video of Professor Lane talking about his research and its importance.
Dr Julian Downward’s work in the 1980s paved the way for several targeted cancer treatments used today.
For many, the 1980s represent social unrest and wardrobe disasters. But amidst the strikes and the legwarmers, the 1980s gave us much to be thankful for. For cancer scientists, it was a Renaissance period – a decade during which cancer research came of age and (unlike many of us) got a proper haircut.
Cancer Research UK was at the heart of this maturation, so as part of our High-Impact Science series, we thought we’d go back and revisit a discovery that not only spawned a whole new field of cancer research, but led directly to the development of drugs that are used to treat cancer patients today.
Professor Walter Bodmer, along with his colleague Professor Ellen Solomon, helped to locate the APC gene in the 1980s
In this next post in our High-Impact Science series, we take a look at how our scientists in the late 80s laid the foundations for the discovery of an important bowel cancer gene called APC - now known to be faulty in around eight out of ten cases of the disease.
Publishing their research in two back-to-back papers in the journal Nature (here and here), the scientists – led by Professors Walter Bodmer and Ellen Solomon – tracked down the location of APC, paving the way for its eventual identification in 1991.
Thanks to the discovery, members of unfortunate families in which many cases of bowel cancer occur – often at a young age – can now be offered life-saving genetic tests and screening.
Studying APC and related genes has also led scientists to uncover the role of other important molecules that are involved in several types of cancer. This painstaking research is helping us to understand how cancer develops at a molecular level, laying the foundations for the development of future treatments.
Let’s look in a bit more detail at this landmark discovery, and what it means for bowel cancer patients and their families.
Professor Gerard Evan’s work turned our understanding of a crucial cancer gene on its head
In this next post in our High-Impact Science series, we look at a rather surprising discovery made by Professor Gerard Evan and his team at the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute in the early 1990s.
Their results overturned established thinking, leading to a massive leap in our understanding of the intricate mechanisms that drive cancer and ultimately paving the way for new treatments
It all centres on a gene called Myc, which was known to be an “accelerator” gene (oncogene), responsible for driving the growth of cancer cells. But Professor Evan and his colleagues showed that Myc could also cause cancer cells to die – the complete opposite of what was expected. The scientists published their findings in the journal Cell in 1992, shaking up the whole field of cancer research in the process.
Let’s look in a bit more detail about how the team revealed Myc as both a bringer of cell life and cell death, and why it was so important.