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2009 – a year of progress

by Kat Arney | Analysis

22 December 2009

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Christmas star

2009 has been a busy year for our researchers

We’ll be taking a break from blogging over the festive period, but we’ll be back in January with more top science, myth-busting and podcasts.  In the meantime, here’s a quick run-down of some of the biggest stories that we’ve covered on the blog this year.

Going all the way back to January, our researchers discovered how the female sex hormone oestrogen can cause DNA damage. This could explain how it drives a number of cancers, including breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

February’s big excitement was the launch of the first Cancer Research UK Centre, in Birmingham.  We’ve now opened seven more Centres across the UK, and we’ll be announcing yet more in 2010.

In March, Cancer Research UK-funded scientists made progress in developing a nanoparticle-based treatment that can specifically target cancer cells.  Although there’s a way to go before this could be used to treat patients, this is the kind of innovative research that may well pay off in the future.

Showing that they’re certainly no fools, April saw our researchers reveal details of a simple test that could show whether relatives of bowel cancer patients are themselves at high risk of the disease.

And in May, promising early-stage clinical trial results were published for the prostate cancer drug abiraterone – a drug that Cancer Research UK helped to develop.

In June our scientists showed that humble adenoviruses – usually responsible for causing cold-like illnesses – can be altered to become cancer killers.

And the following month, the spotlight shone on our Gray Institute for Radiation Oncology and Biology in Oxford – where researchers announced that cancer cells appear to spread along blood vessels in the brain, rather than nerve cells as previously thought.  Their finding changes the way we think about how cancer spreads to the brain, and how we might develop treatments to prevent it.

In August our media spokespeople were kept busy commenting on an important breakthrough from scientists in the US, who might have found a way to target the faulty stem cells that are thought to lie at the heart of a number of cancers.

As the summer drew to a close, September saw Cancer Research UK-funded scientists make more progress in our understanding of the genes involved in cancer, as they revealed nine more gene variations linked to prostate cancer.

In October, cancer researchers from around the world descended on Birmingham for the annual NCRI Cancer Conference to hear about the latest scientific developments.

Judging by the buzz amongst delegates, new drugs called PARP inhibitors are set to be rising stars of treatment for breast cancer – and perhaps for other cancers – in the future.

After a year and a half of campaigning, our “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” campaign scored a huge victory in November, as the Health Bill 2009 – which bans the display of tobacco at the point of sale and prohibits tobacco vending machines – became law.

And despite December’s chill, our hearts were warmed last week by the announcement that scientists at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute had mapped the entire genomes of cancer cells from a melanoma and a lung cancer patient, as well as corresponding healthy cells.  Their groundbreaking work reveals detailed molecular insights into the development of cancer, and sets the scene for rapid progress in understanding how cancer develops – and hopefully how to treat it more effectively.

That’s just a brief round-up of some of the exciting progress that’s been made over the last twelve months – much of it a result of the hard work of our scientists, and supported by your generous donations.  Thank you so much.

And on that note of gratitude, we wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy new year – see you in 2010!



  • Siim Pauklin, Isora V. Sernández, Gudrun Bachmann, Almudena R. Ramiro, Svend K. Petersen-Mahrt (2009). Estrogen directly activates AID transcription and function The Journal of Experimental Medicine
  • Chisholm, E et al (2009). Cancer-Specific Transgene Expression Mediated by Systemic Injection of Nanoparticles Cancer Research, 69 (6), 2655-2662 DOI: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-08-2657
  • Lubbe, S. et al (2009). Implications of Familial Colorectal Cancer Risk Profiles and Microsatellite Instability Status Journal of Clinical Oncology DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2008.20.3364
  • Attard, G. et al (2009). Selective Inhibition of CYP17 With Abiraterone Acetate Is Highly Active in the Treatment of Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer Journal of Clinical Oncology DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2008.20.0642
  • Cawood, R., Chen, H., Carroll, F., Bazan-Peregrino, M., van Rooijen, N., & Seymour, L. (2009). Use of Tissue-Specific MicroRNA to Control Pathology of Wild-Type Adenovirus without Attenuation of Its Ability to Kill Cancer Cells PLoS Pathogens, 5 (5) DOI: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1000440
  • Carbonell, W. et al. (2009). The Vascular Basement Membrane as “Soil” in Brain Metastasis PLoS ONE, 4 (6) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0005857
  • Gupta, P. et al. (2009). Identification of Selective Inhibitors of Cancer Stem Cells by High-Throughput Screening Cell DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2009.06.034
  • Eeles, R. et al (2009). Identification of seven new prostate cancer susceptibility loci through a genome-wide association study Nature Genetics DOI: 10.1038/ng.450
  • Al Olama, A. et al (2009). Multiple loci on 8q24 associated with prostate cancer susceptibility Nature Genetics DOI: 10.1038/ng.452
  • Pleasance, E. et al (2009). A comprehensive catalogue of somatic mutations from a human cancer genome Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature08658
  • Pleasance, E. et al (2009). A small-cell lung cancer genome with complex signatures of tobacco exposure Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature08629