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News digest – childhood leukaemia, ovarian cancer, tumour-melting machines, and more

by Oliver Childs | Analysis

28 January 2012

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Read up on the latest cancer news

A lot can happen in 7 short days, so we’ve pulled together the most interesting cancer research stories from the past week. And if the first few News Digests of 2012 are anything to go by, it looks as if it’s going to be a vintage year for cancer research.

Follow the links below for more information on each of this week’s selected stories:

  • Yesterday we were pleased to announce that our Drug Development Office has launched a trial of a new drug to treat children with leukaemia who are no longer responding to conventional treatment. Three-quarters of children now survive this disease, but we urgently need better options for those who don’t. We hope this trial is a step towards further life-saving improvements.
  • Given that prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, we were interested to see research from Canada about an already available drug that may be useful to treat men with early-stage disease. The study suggests that giving dutasteride to these men might reduce or delay the need for radiotherapy or surgery – treatments that can sometimes cause impotence and incontinence. But the jury is still out, and we need to see more research about the benefits and risks of this treatment.
  • A ‘tumour-melting’ machine may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but that’s exactly what a UK company is trying to develop. Cancer Research Technology, our ‘in house’ commercial arm, announced the launch of a company called Acublate Limited, working on a next-generation surgery device that uses ultrasound energy to heat and destroy tumours while leaving surrounding healthy tissue intact.
  • US researchers found that infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV) in the mouth may be more common among men than women. HPV infection is known be linked to several cancers, including mouth cancer, so it’s important to know who’s most at risk of infection, and why. There isn’t any evidence yet to show whether HPV vaccination is effective at preventing oral HPV infections, but this work will inform future cancer prevention programmes.
  • The Government’s Human Genomics Strategy Group – convened to look at the issue of genetic testing on the NHSpublished a lengthy report examining the issue. To coincide with this, health secretary Andrew Lansley announced plans to improve and fund genetic tests for cancer. We’re obviously pleased about this, but would also like to see more detail about what’s being announced and how it will be funded. The BBC has the story here.
  • Researchers in the US have developed a gene test that could predict which non-small cell lung cancer patients still have a low chance of surviving despite having their disease diagnosed early (stage 1). Their findings will allow new trials to find out whether these patients could benefit from additional chemotherapy after surgery.
  • A large study led by our scientists at the University of Cambridge found that women with faulty BRCA genes are more likely to survive ovarian cancer. This is intriguing research, because women with faulty BRCA genes have an increased chance of developing the disease in the first place. Understanding how these gene faults influence survival could help improve treatment for the disease.
  • Meanwhile, in Glasgow, a team of scientists at our Beatson Institute for Cancer Research created the first 3D structure of a key protein that protects against the development of cancer. Cracking a protein’s 3D structure is an important step in understanding how it works, and leads to new ideas for how to target the disease.
  • And, finally, can ‘eating chocolate stave off bowel cancer’? In a word, no. The study that prompted such headlines this week involved rats who were fed very large quantities of cocoa over a number of weeks, so it’s impossible to conclude that that eating chocolate or drinking cocoa protects people against bowel cancer. Apologies to any disappointed chocoholics.

That’s it for this week. Tune in next week for more of the latest cancer research news.