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Cancer Research Wales Announces Major New Investment

As part of its latest initiative, Cancer Research Wales has announced over £1.6M of new funding for a series of cancer research projects across Wales. All parts of Wales are set to benefit from this new funding and it brings the total invested to over £2.1M since December last year.

Building Clinical Research Platforms in North Wales 

Cancer researchers in North Wales will receive over £600,000 for several exciting programmes of work.

Dr Nick Wreglesworth, a medical oncologist for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, has joined forces with Dr Ramsay McFarlane to undertake a body of research utilising Cancer Testis Antigens (CTAs). CTAs are a family of proteins that are found in cancer cells but not normally in healthy cells, so they offer a promising target for the detection and treatment of cancer. This new project will focus on a CTA called TEX19, which is expressed in lung, bowel and ovarian cancers, some of the leading causes of cancer deaths in Wales.

It is well known that patient outcomes are better in health boards which are research intensive. This new work will act as a catalyst to build critical mass for clinical research in North Wales and will provide a platform for the development of new cancer treatments that can be incorporated into the NHS. Dr Wreglesworth and Dr McFarlane have assembled a talented team of researchers, clinicians, computer scientists and technology partners who will work collectively to deliver this innovative cancer research.

Elsewhere in North Wales, two novel studies will investigate how cancer cells can repair their DNA following conventional treatments such as chemotherapy. Increased understanding of such fundamental aspects of cancer biology will give clinicians the ability to pinpoint which patients are more likely to respond to certain types of treatment for ovarian and breast cancers. This personalised approach to cancer therapy will help ensure that patients are treated with the right drug at the right time.

Cutting Edge Developments in West Wales

Swansea University will receive around £400,000 for several research initiatives.

A drug development programme is set to design and test new agents for use in acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). This form of blood cancer is fast-growing and difficult to treat and is the leading cause of death from leukaemia in the UK.

Dr Salvatore Ferla and his team will use a combination of computer-aided drug design and laboratory techniques to develop drugs against a key protein called GATA-2, which controls a network of cancer-related genes. The development of new therapies that can block GATA-2 will offer clinicians a new strategy against this aggressive leukaemia.

Two research groups will receive further funding to continue their development of blood tests for prostate and oesophageal cancers.

Dr Jason Webber’s team will work to refine their technique that assesses cancer-derived extracellular vesicles, small bubbles of fat that cells can use to communicate. By analysing extracellular vesicles released into the blood from prostate tumours, they hope to be able to be able to distinguish aggressive forms of the cancer.

Elsewhere, Prof Gareth Jenkins’ team will build on their previous work developing a blood test for oesophageal cancer, which can detect damage in red and white blood cells caused by noxious chemicals released from the growing tumour. The team will now investigate how such damage comes about as patients progress from persistent gastric reflux through to oesophageal cancer, via the pre-malignant condition Barrett’s Oesophagus.

Brain Cancer Focus for South-East Wales

For decades, survival rates for brain cancers have seen very little improvement. Building on previous successes, including the Ed Evans Brain Tumour Scholarship, Cancer Research Wales is pleased to announce another £235,000 for research in this area as part of the new funding.

The first project is the further development of laboratory “mini brains” that can be used to replicate the clinical picture of brain tumours.

These mini brains are created in the lab using stem cells from taken from the blood of patients and contain all the structures and cell types that are found in normal brains. Brain cancer cells can then be taken from the same patients and implanted into the mini brains to mirror the exact clinical situation. Using this model, scientists will be able to test new therapies for brain tumours and accelerate improvements in our understanding of these devastating cancers.

The second project is aiming to generate an effective new way to treat glioblastoma, the most common form of brain cancer, using specially engineered viruses and will make use of the mini brains described above.

Prof Alan Parker’s team have previously engineered a common virus to no longer cause illness, but instead to infect and kill cancer cells without harming normal cells. Now they will test whether additional anti-cancer benefits can be incorporated into their therapy, including delivering chemotherapy drugs directly into the tumour and enhancing the immune system’s response to the cancer. It is hoped that the finished virus will be highly effective at killing glioblastoma and can be taken towards clinical trials in future.

Other funding at Cardiff University includes two drug development projects aiming to design and test new therapies that encourage cancer cells to commit suicide and research investigating the fundamental changes that cause polyps to develop into bowel cancer.

Cancer Research Wales is delighted to be able to announce this significant new investment across Wales. Thank you to all our supporters, without whom such exciting funding initiatives would not be possible.