As with most years, cancer has never been far from the headlines in 2016. Many household names sadly died from cancer this year. But many households too will have faced their own cancer journeys.
Thanks to your generous donations, it has also been a year of progress in research.
Women who carry an inherited fault in the BRIP1 gene are over 3 times more likely to develop ovarian cancer than those without the fault, according to our scientists.
Around 18 women in every 1,000 develop ovarian cancer, but this risk increases to around 58 women in every 1,000 for those with a faulty BRIP1 gene. It’s estimated that one in every 1,000 UK women have the genetic fault.
Our scientists launched a clinical trial testing an experimental cancer drug, called AMG319, to find out if it can remove a molecular ‘defence shield’ that hides cancer cells from the immune system.
The Phase II trial, taking place at Poole Hospital, Southampton General Hospital, and the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre/Aintree University Hospital, is looking at the effects of giving this drug to patients with a type of head and neck cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma, to determine whether it can help the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
Read more about the trial in this blog post.
“It’s become clear that patients with more immune cells in their head and neck tumours generally have a better outlook."
“This is a really exciting trial because we’re using this drug in solid tumours for the first time."
“We will study how the immune cells behave before and after AMG319 and whether they have become more effective."
With the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) giving scientists at London’s Francis Crick Institute a licence to use new gene editing technology to study embryo development, we explored how scientists use the revolutionary technique – called CRISPR – to study cancer.
Dr Adrian Saurin, one our experts in studying how cancer cells divide, said the implications of CRISPR will be enormous, particularly for studying faulty proteins in cancer. “We can observe biology, without artificially interfering with it, and then make changes just to the DNA and examine the consequences,” he said.
“That’s the only true way to get cause from effect. It’s going to open up a whole load of new questions that we just weren’t able to address before.”
Our scientists have uncovered more about what the immune system ‘sees’ on the surface of cancer cells.
We released results from a clinical trial testing a combination of two drugs – lapatinib (Tyverb) and trastuzumab (Herceptin) – before surgery in women with so-called ‘HER2 positive’ breast cancer.
The EPHOS B trial, led by researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, the University of Manchester and University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust, studied 257 women with HER2 positive breast cancer in the short gap between initial diagnosis and surgery to remove their tumours. They wanted to see if women given these drugs before surgery did better than those who didn’t receive the drugs.
In only 11 days, 17% of the women receiving both drugs saw their tumours shrink to smaller than 5mm in size. And for 11% of women their tumour completely disappeared.
According to the co-lead scientist Professor Judith Bliss, the results were surprising. And the findings may lead to fewer women needing chemotherapy after surgery.
Our scientists found that a curable sub-type of medulloblastoma brain tumours in children – called WNT medulloblastoma – grow ‘leaky’ blood vessels that allow higher than normal levels of chemotherapy drugs to reach the cancer cells.
This discovery helps scientists understand why these tumours respond better to treatment than others. And it could help them find and develop more effective treatments for the less curable medulloblastoma sub-types.
The rapid scan, which took place in Cambridge, will allow doctors to map the activity of cells in patients, opening up potential new ways to detect cancer and monitor the effects of treatment.
It could also help doctors see whether a drug is working within a day or two of starting treatment.
We hope this will progress the way cancer treatment is given and make therapy more effective for future patients.
We announced a £4million investment to expand the UK’s first national study collecting blood and tissue samples from patients who have died from cancer, in a bid to shed light on what happens during the final stages of the disease.
The PEACE study, led by Cancer Research UK UCL Centre, will collect post mortem samples from up to 500 patients who died from cancer.
Doctors have invited terminally ill patients – most of whom are taking part in clinical trials – to discuss with their families the idea of donating samples after death, before deciding to be part of this pioneering research.
This study will help researchers create a detailed timeline of the biological changes in a patient’s cancer from diagnosis to death.
“This study will help us complete the whole cancer picture – from diagnosis to death.”
“I think it’s important to give the patient a choice to contribute to research that will help save others’ lives.”
“I hope one day that donating tissue after death is as normal as donating blood.”
“It’s an opportunity to create something positive out of a difficult experience.”
“I had no qualms about agreeing to take part."
If it helps other people and helps to advance research into cancer treatments then it can only be a positive study.
A ball of cells with their own ‘passport’ may speed up drug testing.
Our researchers in Cambridge, and colleagues in the US, uncovered the ‘perfect storm’ of conditions that can lead to cancer. The discovery could help explain why some organs are more susceptible to developing tumours than others.
Read our blog post or press play below to find out why this shows that cancer is more than just bad luck.
A ‘perfect storm’ is needed for cancer to develop.
Researchers at our Cambridge Institute sprayed a dye on to oesophageal tissue samples taken from people with Barrett’s oesophagus – a condition that can develop in to oesophageal cancer.
The dye sticks to healthy oesophageal cells but not to precancerous cells.
And this new technique could one day be used to monitor people with Barrett’s oesophagus who have an increased risk of developing oesophageal cancer.
Read this blog post for more info.
The discovery, led by our scientists at the MRC Cancer Unit at the University of Cambridge, paves the way for testing new drugs that could target specific weaknesses unique to each type of oesophageal cancer.
Our scientists in Edinburgh made it possible to see the unexpected relationship that specialised immune cells in the brain (called microglia) have with brain tumour cells.
Their findings could open up a new way to test drugs for the most common type of brain tumour, glioblastoma.
Read our blog post for more.
Zebrafish are helping scientists develop treatments for brain tumours.
How gold nanoparticles are helping scientists trace drugs right into the heart of cancer cells.
The fact that smoking kills isn’t news. But the big question is: how precisely does tobacco smoking harm the DNA in our cells to such a devastating degree that it causes cancer?
In November a detailed study, led by scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, revealed some of the details. And it seems that the situation is more complex, and more sinister, than previously appreciated, as different tissues of the body display different hallmarks of smoking damage. Read this post to find out once again just how devastating smoking can be.
We also took to social media to share the news.
The list of things that smartphones can do is constantly growing. And that includes supporting the world of medicine.
To explore this potential we partnered up with the British Thoracic Society and developed an app for iPhone and iPad to help guide doctors assessing scans that could show signs of lung cancer.
The app gives health professionals quick and easy access to guidelines developed by the British Thoracic Society, turning the mobile phone into a powerful way to potentially diagnose lung cancer.
Check out our blog post for more info.
“The app makes it much easier to plan nodule follow up in clinics and team meetings. I’m a big fan!”
None of the research we’ve funded this year would have been possible without our amazing supporters. So we want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you.