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News digest – Grand Challenge, a ‘cancer breathalyser’, e-cigarettes, climbing children’s cancer survival and… Salmonella?

by Justine Alford | Analysis

11 February 2017

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Could Salmonella bacteria help treat cancer?
  • We asked the world’s scientists to propose how to tackle some of the biggest challenges in cancer research. Now, the first groups of winners of our Grand Challenge have been announced, with 4 international teams awarded up to £71 million over the next 5 years for their exceptional projects. More info on the team’s proposals can be found here, or in the story’s widespread news coverage.
  • Evidence has been mounting that e-cigarettes are much safer than tobacco smoking. Now, a new study we funded, which compared levels of toxic chemicals in the bodies of e-cigarette users and tobacco smokers, has offered the most robust evidence to date that this is the case. But only if people switch entirely and stop using tobacco. Check out our press release or blog for the details.
  • A ‘magic’ blood test could help predict the risk of a potentially fatal complication in blood cancer patients given a bone marrow transplant. As our news report says, this could help doctors offer targeted drugs to tackle the complication earlier, potentially saving lives.
  • Red wine, like all types of alcohol, raises the risk of cancer. But almost 9 in 10 British adults are unaware of the link, according to a new World Cancer Research Fund survey. This tallies with a survey we published last year, and the Independent and Mirror’s coverage has more info.
  • Good news for children’s cancers – survival is continuing to show an upward trend. Back in 1990, fewer than 7 in 10 children diagnosed with cancer survived for at least 5 years. For those diagnosed in 2015, it’s now estimated to be greater than 8 in 10, according to new figures. Our news report has more on the numbers.

Number of the week:


The number of international teams that will be addressing three of our Grand Challenge problems.

  • A new clinical trial – the largest of its kind – has set out to investigate whether a breath and urine test could help diagnose bowel cancer at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful. The UK bowel screening programme asks people to collect faecal samples, but it’s too early to say whether the new test will be a good alternative.
  • Disappointingly, for the third year in a row cancer patient waiting times in England have been missed. In the final quarter of 2016 only 82.2% of patients were treated within the 62-day target following urgent GP referral, according to new NHS figures. Our news report discusses the situation.
  • A small study in people has raised the possibility that a blood test could help diagnose pancreatic cancer at an early stage. While this early result is promising for detection, to make sure that the outlook improves for pancreatic cancer patients, we also need to see advances in treatment. New Scientist has the details.
  • As we’re investigating, aspirin could help stop some cancers coming back. Now a new study may shed light on aspirin’s anti-cancer properties, suggesting it could, in part, be down to the drug’s effects on our blood platelets. The Sun and GEN News covered this research.
  • A test that profiles the genetic makeup of breast tumours could save up to 6,000 women a year unnecessary chemotherapy after surgery for their cancer, a new trial suggests. The test, called Oncotype DX, is already approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) but these figures could boost its uptake, the Daily Mail reports.
  • And more potentially good news for early breast cancer patients: some women could be spared weeks of radiotherapy after surgery to stop their cancer coming back, instead being offered a single dose of targeted radiation. But NICE says that more research is needed to find out whether this technique is as effective as the current treatment.
  • Top cancer researchers in the UK and US have called for an end to “indefensible” high prices of new cancer drugs. Their proposed solutions, including academics taking greater control of their drug discoveries, were covered by the Guardian and Reuters among others.
  • Our commercial arm, Cancer Research Technology, has joined forces with University College London and Tusk Therapeutics to research and develop new immunotherapy treatments, based on discoveries made by our scientists. Our press release details the exciting new collaboration.

And finally…

  • Cancer has many tricks to evade surveillance by the immune system. But modified (harmless) Salmonella bacteria could help lift tumour cells’ invisibility cloak, new research suggests. Reported by Science and others, the tweaked germs prompted the immune system to fight human cancer cells in mice and helped stop them spreading. This isn’t the only research to suggest such a possibility, but at the moment it’s unclear whether the approach will work in people.