Cancer Research UK announces four ‘Grand Challenge’ teams

Charity commits more than £70 million to research projects that approach ambitious, unresolved challenges in cancer research

February 10, 2017
Source: iStock

Today, Cancer Research UK (CRUK) announced four of the research teams that will begin work on its ambitious Global Challenge initiative.

The initiative, announced in 2015, commits £100 million of funding towards addressing seven unresolved challenges in cancer research. Last year, CRUK invited multidisciplinary teams to submit proposals to respond to the challenges, and it received applications from representatives of more than 200 institutions around the world.

The charity originally planned to fund one new study each year, but it has instead announced four teams, crediting the quality of the proposals for the increased pace of funding. The four research teams cross national borders and scientific fields to address these challenges. This first round of funding has sees up to £71 million allocated.

“Cancer is a global problem, and these projects are part of the global solution,” said Sir Harpal Kumar, CRUK’s chief executive. “Together, we will redefine cancer – turning it from a disease that so many people die from to one that many people can live with. We will reduce the number of people worldwide affected by cancer and achieve our goal of beating cancer sooner.”

CRUK is planning to issue a set of revised challenges this summer to launch the second phase of the Grand Challenge initiative.

These are the four projects to receive funding this time around.


New ways to prevent cancer?

Smoking, pollution, drinking alcohol and other factors can increase the risk of cancer by damaging our DNA and leaving a “mutational fingerprint”. However, little is known about this process. Mike Stratton of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, Cambridge, will lead a study of cancer samples from across five continents in order to explore the DNA damage associated with different types of cancer. The research will fill vital knowledge gaps in the environmental and behavioural causes of cancer.

When is cancer not really cancer?

Clinicians struggle to make informed decisions about how to approach treating ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): a condition that can sometimes develop into breast cancer. A study led by Jelle Wesseling of the Netherlands Cancer Institute – and co-funded with the Dutch Cancer Society – will investigate tissue samples and medical records from donors with DCIS. They will attempt to find biomarkers that identify which patients are at high risk of developing cancer, ensuring that treatment can be targeted at the necessary patients.

Charting unknown territory

In a highly multidisciplinary project led by Josephine Bunch of the National Physical Laboratory, scientists and engineers will aim to develop a reliable, detailed method for mapping tumours. Through this major project, they will make use of cutting-edge instruments and techniques in mass spectrometry imaging to study tumours and develop a database of the metabolism and genetic make-up of tumours.

Building a virtual reality interactive map of breast cancer

Greg Hannon of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute will lead a study aiming to create a simulation of everything that happens within a tumour – down to each individual cell. The project will look into how the cells within a tumour are arranged, and how they interact to allow the tumour to grow. The team – which will be highly multidisciplinary, involving computer scientists and virtual reality experts – will use its findings to construct a 3D tumour model that can be studied in virtual reality.

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