In March, Beatson scientist Dr Johan Vande Voorde called on Scots to walk 10,000 steps a day to help raise money for Cancer Research UK's Walk All Over Cancer campaign. Johan and his loyal sidekick Sookie were chosen to launch the fundraising challenge in Scotland.
Johan is studying how cancer cells use nutrients in a different way to healthy cells to grow and survive. His hope is that identifying a way to interfere with how cancer cells use nutrients to grow could lead to new targets for cancer drugs and better, kinder treatments.
Johan is also a member of a global team of scientists working to create a ‘Google Earth’ for tumours. Cancer Research UK is investing £16 million in the ground breaking ‘Grand Challenge’ project to develop a new way to map tumours that could transform how cancer is diagnosed and treated.
Away from the lab, Johan walks seven-year-old Sookie, a flat-coated retriever, to relax and exercise after a long day at work.
Originally from a town called Turnhout in Belgium, Johan moved to Scotland four years ago and says he immediately fell in love with Drymen when it came to looking for somewhere to live, because of its warm sense of community and its proximity to some of Scotland’s most beautiful countryside. Somewhere he could take Sookie for nice long walks was also important, as she was moving to Scotland with him.
Johan said: 'Walking with Sookie is what I enjoy most in my free time. It gets me out and about and helps me clear my head. And it’s healthy to walk and get some exercise away from my desk. During the week we go for shorter walks along the West Highland Way, and at the weekends I’ll take her for one or two good walks at Loch Lomond, or in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park.'
In Scotland, a fifth of people are getting less than 30 minutes of physical activity a week (source: Scottish Health Survey). Walking 10,000 steps at a brisk pace could burn roughly 500 calories.
Pictured above: Beatson scientist Dr Johan Vande Voorde and Sookie
The Beatson Institute would like to extend a warm welcome to Dr Crispin Miller, who has just started as our Head of Bioinformatics. Crispin joins us from Manchester, where he was senior group leader of the RNA Biology group at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute.
Crispin's research is focused on how gene expression is regulated within cells, and how these regulatory systems are altered in cancer. This has led to a long-term interest in noncoding RNAs, and their role in the cellular response to changing oxygen levels. Crispin’s background was originally in Computer Science and AI. His programme is centred on the use of computational techniques to explore high volumes of genomics data, and to use these approaches to identify patterns that help better understand the changes that drive tumour progression.
Crispin has said 'It’s been fantastic to move to Glasgow and to join the Beatson Institute. We’re already starting building new multidisciplinary collaborations and it’s a wonderfully stimulating environment to become a part of.'
Beatson researchers are set to receive almost £1.8 million over the next five years as part of a £19 million investment in a global project to investigate why some cancers are specific to certain tissues and not others.
Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge is the most ambitious cancer research grant in the world, with the potential to revolutionise how we understand, prevent, diagnose and treat the disease.
The Beatson scientists will work as part of a team of researchers from Manchester, the US and the Netherlands who beat stiff international competition to secure the funding.
They will bring their world-leading expertise in bowel cancer to the pioneering project, which was selected by an international panel of experts from a shortlist of ten exceptional, multi-disciplinary collaborations from universities, institutes and industry across the globe.
Beatson Institute Director Owen Sansom said: “This Cancer Research UK Grand Challenge funding will be transformative. It will allow us to work together with some of the best research groups from around the world and to do some really exciting and ambitious research to try and find an answer to this key question about early disease in cancer.”
Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge was established to help scientists attack some of the hardest, unanswered questions in cancer research.
The international project team is looking to understand why genetic faults only affect certain tissues.
If someone carries a potentially cancer-causing gene mutation, this fault can exist in every cell of the body, but only causes specific cancers, such as breast or skin. The team is studying why this is the case, and will use this information to find ways to prevent or treat cancer in these organs.
Owen continued: “My team have been trying to understand for a number of years why mutations in a gene called APC are really common in bowel cancer. With this £1.8 million funding we will try to uncover why we only see the APC mutation in bowel cancer; why not breast cancer or skin cancer? If we can work out the reason this gene mutation doesn’t cause cancer in these other organs, then our hope is we might be able to find a way to make the bowel resistant to the APC mutation and prevent cancer from developing.”
The funding announcement has been covered by numerous media outlets.
For more information, visit www.cruk.org.uk/grandchallenge
Pictured above: Beatson Institute Director Owen Sansom (photo credit: Steve Welsh)
Beatson Institute researchers led by Dr Saverio Tardito have been investigating the difference that using traditional media vs a homemade one that more closely mimics physiological conditions can make to the outcome of experiments. The work has been published in Science Advances: Improving the metabolic fidelity of cancer models with a physiological cell culture medium. The research has been covered in an article in The Atlantic: Scientists Have Been Studying Cancers in a Very Strange Way for Decades and also in Cancer Research UK's blog: Cell culture shock – a scientist’s hunt for the perfect cocktail.
Click here to read more about Saverio's research group.