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News digest – The Queen opens the Crick, a radical sugary drinks proposal, gut microbes, gold and… lasers?

by Justine Alford | Analysis

12 November 2016

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Could lasers aid brain tumour surgery?
  • The £650 million biomedical ‘superlab’ that we helped fund – the Francis Crick Institute – had its doors swung open in style by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh earlier this week.
  • Becoming obese during adulthood may significantly raise the risk of obesity-related cancers in both men and women, according to research presented at a cancer conference. Being overweight or obese is linked with 13 types of cancer, but this was the first study to look at the risk following weight gain throughout adult life.
  • Facing the growing obesity problem, NHS England wants to ban sugar-laden beverages from hospitals – a step further than the government’s sugary drinks tax that will come into play in 2018, the Guardian and others report.
  • Tumour cells could be affecting energy production by the liver, ultimately stopping the immune system from reacting to the cancer, new research from Cambridge suggests. This could explain why immune-boosting treatments – immunotherapies – fail in some people.
  • Scientists from Belfast have found a molecule that could explain why some bowel cancers are resistant to a drug called cetuximab. Blocking this molecule could make cancers vulnerable to the drug, but first the findings need to be confirmed in people.
  • Women with breast cancer symptoms other than a lump – such as a swollen armpit or changes to the size/shape of the breast or nipple – may be more likely to delay going to their GP. This research from UCL highlights the importance of raising awareness of non-lump symptoms to try and promote diagnosis of breast cancer at an earlier stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful.

Number of the week


The number of patients with suspected cancer who didn’t see a specialist within 2 weeks last year.

  • Killing two birds with one stone, researchers have found that a molecule on aggressive prostate cancer cells, which is used to predict the likelihood of the cancer coming back, could double up as a way to target drugs to the tumour. Next up is finding out whether this strategy will work in patients.
  • Despite improved treatment that’s saving more lives, children diagnosed with cancer in the ‘90s aren’t experiencing better long-term health than those diagnosed in the ‘70s. While this new research suggests treatment side-effects haven’t been reduced, the good news is that these individuals are living longer.
  • Some people with a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus – a risk-factor for oesophageal cancer – could be spared invasive endoscopies in future, thanks to a ‘sponge on a string’ test. Our press release has the details.
  • Smoking might be becoming less popular among Americans now, but decades of tobacco use are taking their toll. A new report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that cancers linked to tobacco use make up around 40% of all cancers diagnosed in the US each year.
  • The NHS is still failing to meet cancer waiting times, with more than 130,000 patients each year not getting the care they need within the target time. This worrying story appeared in the Guardian, as did our CEO Sir Harpal Kumar’s open letter on the matter.
  • Not just reserved for jewellery – tiny particles of gold are helping researchers trace the fate of cancer drugs in cells in the lab, ensuring they reach their target. It’s hoped that ultimately researchers could use this technique to design new treatments.
  • The bugs in your bowels could be beneficial for skin cancer treatment, according to new US research. The study found that melanoma patients with more diverse gut bacteria were more likely to respond to immunotherapy, opening the doors for further clinical research.

And finally…

  • New developments in laser technology could allow surgeons to tell the difference between normal brain tissue and tumours – with their ears. The gadget works by bouncing laser light off tissues, which sends out signals that can distinguish healthy tissue from cancer, New Scientist reports. Converting these signals into sounds allows surgeons to keep their eyes on the patient rather than reading screens, which researchers hope could ultimately make surgery more accurate.