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2010 – A year of progress

by Kat Arney | Analysis

17 December 2010

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Christmas star

2010 has been a busy year for our researchers

We fund the work of more than 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses across the UK. As always, they’ve been working hard this year to make progress in beating cancer.

Here are just a few highlights of our advances in 2010:

January: Our researchers in Cambridge eavesdrop on ‘chattering’ molecules, helping them to understand how oestrogen fuels breast cancer; Scientists in Nottingham show that so-called ‘junk’ DNA could be used to diagnose bowel and breast cancer; And we pay tribute to cancer information specialist Dr Joan Austoker, who passed away this month.

February: Cancer Research UK-funded scientists discover why some breast cancers are resistant to the drug tamoxifen; Our researchers decipher the structure of part of our cells’ ‘repair kit’, which helps cancers to resist chemotherapy; The results of a large clinical trial prove that a lower total dose of radiotherapy – delivered in a few, large treatments – is just as effective at treating breast cancer than smaller, more frequent doses; And in a surprising twist, scientists find that a new type of drug for melanoma may actually fuel the progression of the cancer.

March: Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research find a new way to hit cancer’s Achilles’ heel, providing targets for future cancer drugs; And our researchers develop a method that could pave the way for more effective personalised breast cancer treatment.

April: Helped by the campaigning efforts of our supporters, the sunbed bill – designed to protect children from the dangers of sunbeds – becomes law; A major study shows that a new bowel screening technique called Flexi-Scope could save thousands of lives– in October the Government announces that the test will be included in the national bowel screening programme; A Cancer Research UK-funded clinical trial shows that a new drug combination can boost survival from gall bladder and bile duct cancer; Scientists in Leeds develop a new technique for modifying viruses to seek and destroy tumour cells; In Cambridge, scientists uncover a faulty gene that can drive the development of aggressive ovarian cancers; And scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research discover two new genes involved in Wilms’ tumour – a type of kidney cancer in children.

May: Significant progress is made in breast cancer this month as our scientists discover five new gene regions involved in the disease; Researchers also uncover a connection between two faulty genes implicated in ‘triple negative’ breast cancer, and show that women with high levels of a certain hormone are more likely to develop the disease; And scientists at our London Research Institute track down ‘watchmen’ cells that can instruct our immune system to destroy tumours.

June: Researchers in Cardiff show that the cell’s ‘molecular clock’ could lead to a test to monitor leukaemia; Scientists use microscopic sticky spots to help them spy on skin cancer cells; Our scientists in Glasgow discover how a cancer-fighting gene can be switched to the ‘dark side’ to promote tumour growth; Cancer Research UK-funded scientists show that new drugs called PARP inhibitors could be effective in men with hereditary prostate cancer – the drugs are already being tested for certain breast and ovarian cancers that run in families; A study shows that surgery to remove bowel tumours that have spread to the liver can significantly improve survival, while early results from a clinical trial suggest that a new drug could prolong life for women with lung cancer; And researchers reveal why people with Down’s syndrome are less likely to get cancer;

July: We open our new Biotherapeutics Development Unit, producing pioneering biological treatments for patients in clinical trials; Doctors in Oxford test a new combination of drugs that form a ‘molecular relay race’; A Cancer Research UK-funded study shows that giving an extra hormone drug to children with aggressive neuroblastoma can reduce the side effects of their chemotherapy; And researchers discover that a missing ‘off switch’ could be the trigger for a certain type of leukaemia.

August: Our researchers discover that switching off a cell ‘starvation’ gene might make ovarian cancer more sensitive to chemotherapy; Cancer Research UK scientists in Leeds reveal the secret behind melanoma’s ‘self healing’ powers, explaining why the cancer can resist treatment; Scientists unravel the molecular structure of BRCA2, a gene that is faulty in some inherited breast, ovarian and prostate cancers.

September: Our researchers find a genetic ‘volume control’ for inherited breast cancers that can influence the risk of developing the disease; Scientists at our Cambridge Research Institute discover how stem cells get replaced in the gut, overturning current ideas and revealing more about the roots of bowel cancer; Cancer Research UK scientists pin down a molecule that could predict how individual bladder cancer patients respond to radiotherapy; In London, our researchers uncover a DNA ‘trick’ that cells can use to become immortal – a key characteristic of cancer.

October: Our scientists in Cambridge develop a new imaging technique that can show if breast cancer treatment is working weeks before current methods; Doctors present results from a major bladder cancer trial, showing thatadding chemotherapy to radiotherapy can cut the chances of the cancer coming back by a third; Researchers show that measuring a protein in urine could pave the way for a test for prostate cancer risk; Our scientists peer deep inside cells to find out how certain proteins safeguard our DNA, protecting us from cancer.

November: New calculations show that HPV screening and vaccination could mean that women only need two cervical screening tests in their lifetime; Cancer Research UK-funded scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research set up a powerful online drug discovery database, helping researchers around the world to uncover new cancer treatments; By pooling data from more than 45,000 people, researchers discover four new gene variations involved in bowel cancer; Figures show that the rate of children dying from cancer in the UK has fallen by almost 60 per cent over the past 40 years – Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of that progress; In Cambridge, our scientists discover that ‘sleeping’ cells can still contribute to skin cancers, revealing more about how these tumours develop.

December: Our doctors show that a new drug can improve survival by more than 50 per cent for children with leukaemia that has come back after treatment; Cancer Research UK-funded scientists lead an international trial confirming that the drug anastrozole can stop breast cancer from coming back even a decade later; And researchers find a way to ‘reverse’ the rogue stem cells that fuel leukaemia.

Wishing you a merry Christmas and a happy new year from everyone at Cancer Research UK.