Award of £3m to investigate treatment resistant cancers

Scientists at the University of Birmingham have been awarded nearly £3m from Cancer Research UK to investigate cancers that are resistant to treatment.

The University of Birmingham reports their researchers Dr Clare Davies and Dr Daniel Tennant have been commended by Cancer Research UK for submitting ambitious bids based on “exciting” findings from their existing research projects.

Cancer Research UK said both research programmes, being run over six years, could eventually help improve the outcome of patients with some of the most difficult to treat cancers such as brain, pancreatic and oesophageal.

Dr Clare Davies, senior research fellow at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cancer & Genomic Sciences, said her team had identified a protein linked to poor survival in breast cancer patients.

The protein, called PRMT5, is found in high levels in many types of cancer. Clare Davies’s research has shown that the protein is a key player in helping breast cancer cells grow, survive and become resistant to drugs.

She said “Firstly we want to find out how PRMT5 contributes to breast cancer growth and drug resistance. That will help us identify new ways to target cancer with drugs. Secondly, we hope to identify which cancer patients will respond favorably to treatments that target PRMT5, thereby limiting the exposure of patients to drugs that may not work for their particular type of cancer. We’re incredibly excited that this research is being funded by Cancer Research UK, as we will be able to answer complex scientific questions in a level of detail that we hope will make a real difference to the lives of cancer patients in the very near future.”

Daniel Tennant is senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research. His is research is looking at targeting drug resistant cells in one of the deadliest forms of breast cancer called triple negative breast cancer. His research is also investigating the same type of drug resistant cells in an aggressive type of brain tumour called glioblastoma.

Daniel Tennant said “We know that certain cancer cells don’t get enough oxygen and it is these that are most resistant to treatment. We’ve developed a new technique to identify molecules that the cancer cells in low oxygen rely on to survive. We think that targeting these molecules could be a good way to kill treatment-resistant cells. Brain tumours are notoriously difficult to treat and we urgently need new approaches to tackling them. Cancer Research UK has made transforming brain tumour research a priority to help more people with the disease, which has devastatingly low survival rates.”

Matt Kaiser, head of discovery research at Cancer Research UK, said “Cancer cells that don’t respond to therapies present a big barrier to successful treatment for patients. We hope that these exciting projects will boost our understanding of the signals in cells that many cancers rely on for growth and survival. This will be key to developing much more successful, targeted treatments for patients in future.”

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