Liver cancer cases have doubled in Scotland

2nd April 2021

liver cancerA new study has shown that the rate of people dying from liver cancer in Scotland has doubled over the past two decades. The study also showed that over the same period Scotland has had the highest number of confirmed deaths from liver cancer per head of population out of any of the four UK nations.

Dr Tom Bird, group leader at the Beatson Institute and Honorary Consultant Hepatologist at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, co-authored the paper. He said:

'Our analysis of this data is showing that liver cancer has become a much more common type of cancer in the UK.

'Whilst there are signs that survival with liver cancer is improving, it still claims far too many lives each year.'
Dr Tom Bird

Dr Bird continued: 'A major factor driving this long-term rise in cancer cases is fat within the liver related to obesity. We expect the trend to get worse, as the pandemic means that fewer people have come forward with symptoms and people's weights and drinking behaviour have been affected too. I see it every day, with more and more patients coming to me with later stages of the disease.

'But it's important to remember that obesity, and the liver diseases related to it, are both preventable and reversible. That's why we need new public health measures to tackle Scotland's weight problem and reduce the risk of developing cancer in the long-term.'

Professor Linda Bauld, Cancer Research UK's prevention expert, who is based at the University of Edinburgh, said: 'It's shocking that so many people in Scotland are being diagnosed and dying of liver cancer.

'It should worry us all that liver cancer rates have risen over the last few decades in Scotland. Sadly, it is preventable factors like being overweight or obese, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption that increase the risk.

liver cancer 3'When it comes to stemming the tide of disease caused by carrying too much weight, the next Scottish Government has the power to make a difference.

'The pandemic understandably stalled progress on new laws to ban the harmful supermarket junk food multibuy offers which encourage us to stock up on unhealthy items that provide no nutritional value. But it's clear from this study that action is still urgently needed to help us all lead healthier lives.

'This is why the next Scottish Government must bring forward legislation to ban supermarket price promotions on junk food at the earliest opportunity.'
Professor Linda Bauld

'It's vital we see action to help us all keep a healthier weight. The health of future generations depends on it.'

This research has also been covered in a news report on the Cancer Research UK website: Liver cancer rates in the UK are highest amongst men in Scotland

The study can be found here: Burton A, Tataru D, Driver RJ, Bird TG, Huws D, Wallace D, Cross TJS, Rowe IA, Alexander G, Marshall A. Primary liver cancer in the UK: Incidence, incidence-based mortality, and survival by subtype, sex, and nation. JHEP Rep. 2021;3:100232. 

Inhibiting apoptosis is the key function of MCL-1 in breast cancer

1st April 2021

MCL1A study - led by Kirsteen Campbell, Stephen Tait and Karen Blyth and funded by Breast Cancer Now - has shown that a protein called MCL-1 helps breast cancer cells survive and replicate by blocking apoptosis (cell death), and that tumours rely on it to grow more aggressively.

Importantly, a type of drug called BH3 mimetics target MCL-1 and could be used to restart apoptosis in breast cancer. What's more, this finding could have also implications for other cancers including leukaemia, those affecting the lung and glioblastoma.

For more details, see this article published in The Herald.

Reference: Campbell KJ, Mason SM, Winder ML, Willemsen RBE, Cloix C, Lawson H, Rooney N, Dhayade S, Sims AH, Blyth K, Tait SWG. Breast cancer dependence on MCL-1 is due to its canonical anti-apoptotic function. Cell Death Differ. 2021. Online ahead of print.

Christos Kiourtis wins JP Award

24th March 2021

christosMany congratulations to Christos Kiourtis who has been awarded the Institute's JP Award for best student presentation. Christos is a final-year PhD student in Dr Tom Bird's group, who work on liver disease and regeneration. Christos gave a fantastic talk on the role of the systemic effects of hepatocellular senescence. 

           Christos slide


The JP Award is named after the Institute's former director Dr John Paul (1922-1994), who established the Beatson Institute for Cancer Research as an independent research institute and moved it to our present location on the Garscube Estate in 1976.

International Women's Day 2021

8th March 2021

Today is International Women's Day! Since the International Day of Women and Girls in Science on 11th February, we've been highlighting many of our female scientists on twitter. Click 'read more' for a roundup!

Read more: International Women's Day 2021

Walking All Over Cancer

2 March 2021

Several of our scientists and staff have pledged to walk 10,000 steps a day in March for Cancer Research UK's Walk All Over Cancer campaign. One of those making the commitment is Dr Amy Tibbo. Amy is a postdoc here who's studying why some prostate cancers return despite surgery. She's inspired to take on the challenge by her own gran's experience with breast cancer.

"I am determined to find solutions so that no-one
has to go through the heartache of cancer.”
-Amy Tibbo

You can read more about Amy's story here: Cancer scientist inspired by gran to take on Walk All Over Cancer 10,000 step challenge

If you're interested in taking part in Walk All Over Cancer, follow this link.

Amy Tibbo Photo: Amy Tibbo

Publication Highlights: January 2021

The Rho GTPase RAC1 is implicated in cell proliferation and is a potential target in cancer treatment. However, it is also required for normal intestinal homeostasis, so direct targeting of RAC1 could negatively impact that homeostasis. As an alternative approach to direct targeting, Karen Pickering, together with fellow authors, tested indirect targeting of RAC1 via other proteins that affect it, namely Vav2/3 and Tiam1 (A RAC-GEF network critical for early intestinal tumourigenesis). Deletion of all three of these genes profoundly suppressed hyperproliferation, tumourigenesis and RAC1 activity, and importantly, did so without impacting normal intestinal function.

MDM2 is a key regulator of the tumour suppressor protein p53 and is therefore another attractive drug target in cancer. However, designing inhibitors towards the protein's catalytic domain have been hampered by its tendency to aggregate. Here (Identification of a catalytic active but non-aggregating MDM2 RING domain variant), Helge Magnussen and Danny Huang identify a single point mutation that greatly decreases aggregation without affecting MDM2's catalytic activity. This variant should be very useful for developing drugs targeting the catalytic domain.

mTOR is a critical regulator of cell growth, integrating multiple signalling cues and pathways. Key among the downstream activities of mTOR is the control of the protein synthesis machinery. Here (The mTOR regulated RNA-binding protein LARP1 requires PABPC1 for guided mRNA interaction), postdoc Ewan Smith and fellow authors use RNA-binding protein capture to identify changes in the RNA–protein interaction network following mTOR inhibition. They find that upon mTOR inhibition, the binding of LARP1 to numerous mRNAs increases, an interaction which the researchers show requires another protein, PABPC1. Importantly, they find that this binding results in translational repression of mRNAs encoding proteins critical for cell growth and survival.

Oncogenic KRAS mutations and inactivation of the APC tumour suppressor often co-occur in colorectal cancer. Despite efforts to target mutant KRAS directly, most therapeutic approaches focus on downstream pathways, albeit with limited efficacy. Here (The amino acid transporter SLC7A5 is required for efficient growth of KRAS-mutant colorectal cancer), postdoc Arafath Najumudeen and fellow researchers show that simultaneous mutation of Apc and Kras in the mouse intestine profoundly rewires cellular metabolism, increasing glutamine consumption. Importantly, the team show that SLC7A5, a glutamine transporter, is critical for colorectal tumourigenesis in models of both early and late stage metastatic disease. Together, these data suggest SLC7A5 as an attractive target for therapy-resistant KRAS mutant colorectal cancer.

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