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£4m funding for Cambridge scientists under Cancer Grand Challenges initiative



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Cambridge scientists will receive £3,938,500 under the Cancer Grand Challenges - an initiative co-founded by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute in the US to encourage researchers to take on some of the toughest challenges in the field.

The eDyNAmiC1 (extrachromosomal DNA in Cancer) team will investigate new ways to combat treatment-resistant cancers.

And the CANCAN2 (CANcer Cachexia Action Network) team hopes to prevent cachexia, where patients ‘waste away’ in the later stages of their disease.

Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, a Cancer Research UK advanced clinician scientist at the MRC Cancer Unit and honorary consultant in clinical genetics at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Serena Nik-Zainal, a Cancer Research UK advanced clinician scientist at the MRC Cancer Unit and honorary consultant in clinical genetics at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Picture: Keith Heppell

The eDyNAmiC team will be led by Stanford University and includes the University of Cambridge’s Prof Serena Nik Zainal. They hope to tackle tumour evolution, which is driven by circular pieces of tumour DNA which exist outside the tumour and pose a major problem by enabling tumours to resist treatment.

Research has shown a major driver of tumour evolution is extrachromosomal DNA (ecDNA) - small circular DNA particles that enable cells to rapidly change their genomes and so evade the immune system.

The eDyNAmiC team want to understand how extrachromosomal DNA is created, find vulnerabilities and then to develop new ways to target these in some of the hardest cancers to treat, including glioblastoma, lung and oesophageal cancer.

Prof Sir Stephen O’Rahilly, in the Department of Clinical Biochemistry. Picture: Keith Heppell
Prof Sir Stephen O’Rahilly, in the Department of Clinical Biochemistry. Picture: Keith Heppell

The CANCAN2 team will be led by US researchers, who will work with co-investigators Prof Sir Stephen O’Rahilly and Dr Tony Coll, of the Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science, and Dr Giulia Biffi, of the CRUK Cambridge Institute, to explore the underpinning mechanisms behind cancer cachexia.

Many people experience this debilitating wasting condition in the later stages of the disease.

Cachexia syndrome is characterised by poor appetite and extensive weight loss from both skeletal muscle and fatty tissue.

It is not fully understood and it is hoped further research can help develop new treatments to improve quality of life for cancer patients and set the standard for cachexia management around the world.

Overall, £80million was awarded to four elite global teams.



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