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2008 – our progress and achievements (part 1)

by Kat Arney | Analysis

9 January 2009

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Test tubes

Cancer Research UK has made significant progress this year

It’s been a busy year for Cancer Research UK’s 4,500 scientists doctors and nurses, as we announced a record spend on research.  And the good news is that cancer survival rates continue to climb in the UK despite a rise in the number of people getting the disease.

There are more signs that the picture is improving. Cancer Research UK funded a third of the clinical trials that are used as evidence for the NICE (National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence) guidelines for cancer treatment, showing the impact of our research on the way that cancer patients are treated. And we’re seeing new, more effective targeted treatments starting to shine through in clinical trials.

Although we’ve highlighted our progress along the way on this blog, we thought that a run-down of some of our major achievements in 2008 would be a good way to round off the year.

Much of the work we fund is fundamental lab research – understanding the molecular nuts and bolts of cancer cells.  This work paves the way for prevention strategies, diagnostic tests and treatments in the future. Here are some of our successes in this area.

Cancer Research UK-funded scientists tracked down seven new regions of the human genome linked to prostate cancer.  Their discovery could unlock future diagnostic tests and new treatments for the diseasePress release, PubMed reference

An international team, led by Cancer Research UK-funded scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research found three regions of the human genome that are linked to inherited lung cancer risk.  Importantly, some of the genetic variations only have an impact if a person is a smoker, providing another good reason to quit. Press release, PubMed links here and here

Researchers at the Beatson Institute in Glasgow showed that high levels of a single gene involved in protein production could cause cancer.  They think this happens due to over-production of proteins in the cell that contribute to cancer development. Press release, PubMed link.

As we reported in October, Professor Kim Nasmyth and his team in Oxford made a fundamental discovery about cohesin – the molecule that holds chromosomes together as cells divide.  NCRI podcast interview, PubMed link.

Researchers at our London Research Institute Clare Hall Laboratories have made a significant breakthrough by showing that a protein called RTEL1 plays an important role in protecting DNA in human cells.  If RTEL1 is faulty, DNA can become damaged, potentially leading to cancer. Press release, PubMed link.

Cancer Research UK-funded scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research have shed light on how tumour cells can switch between different forms of movement.  When a protein called Rac is switched on, cells move in an elongated shape, like a slug.  But when Rac is inactivated, the cells adopt a ball-like shape and move in a different way.  These discoveries will highlight new ways to halt cancer spread. PubMed link.

Cancer Research UK scientists in Cambridge tracked down crucial gene faults found in a type of childhood brain tumour, called pilocytic astrocytoma.  This important discovery reveals a new diagnostic marker for these tumours as well as a potential new treatment target for this disease.  Press release, PubMed link.

Researchers in Liverpool have revealed a way in which an important cell signalling molecule, called the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), may drive cancer growth.  Their discovery has shed light on the complex web of signals that are sent within and between cancer cells, which could help scientists to identify potential targets for future treatments.  Press release, PubMed link.

DNA is repaired by a precise process to ensure that cancer-causing mistakes don’t creep in.  After an 18-year hunt, scientists at our London Research Institute found a crucial “missing link” in the pathway that joins DNA repair to inherited faults in BRCA genes, which can increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Press release, PubMed link.

Researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research made an important discovery about the molecular roots of Wilms’ tumour, a type of childhood kidney cancer.  You can hear lead researcher Professor Nazneen Rahman talk about her research in this podcast from the NCRI conferencePubMed link.

Stem cells are a hot topic in current cancer research. And as we reported recently, Cancer Research UK-funded scientists in Cardiff and Glasgow have produced compelling evidence of the existence of bowel cancer stem cells. Press release, PubMed link.

This list is by no means comprehensive, for the sake of keeping it short and readable.  In the next posts, we’ll cover some of our successes this year in cancer prevention, drug development and clinical trials.