The Institute of Cancer Science’s Dr Julia Cordero has been awarded a Cancer Research UK Pioneer Award. These awards fund innovative, higher-risk ideas that could revolutionise our understanding of cancer.
Julia’s project will use fruit flies as a model system to study cancer-driven behavioural changes. These behavioural changes specifically relate to sleep disturbances and changes in feeding/eating habits. Disturbances to both of these are often experienced by cancer patients.
This is something that needs to be addressed, not only because these issues greatly affect a person’s quality of life, but also because these disturbances can actually affect how well the tumour responds to treatment and therefore how successful the cancer treatment is. So the potential benefit of addressing these behavioural changes is two-pronged: improving quality of life by improving sleep and nutrition, but also improving the chance of successful treatment.
‘There have been a lot of correlational studies on this, but as of now there is very little science,’ Julia said. This is where Julia’s Pioneer Award project steps in. The project aims to dig down into the specific molecular mechanisms underlying how intestinal tumours affect sleeping and eating behaviours.
It is already known that the intestine controls cellular signalling pathways that affect other parts of the body, including the brain. This project will look into how they do this and how this leads to changes in sleeping and eating. The hypothesis is that tumours actively influence brain function.
The ultimate goal of the work is to develop therapies specifically aimed at addressing these sleeping and eating disturbances in cancer patients. Such therapies might include small molecules or peptides, some of which are already in use for other conditions.
Beatson Institute researchers have unravelled a new way to maximise the production of important cancer-related proteins for study in the laboratory. This work, led by Dr Chris Gray of the Institute’s Drug Discovery Programme, has demonstrated that subtle changes to the genetic instructions given to bacterial protein factories can dramatically improve the recovery of high-quality proteins.
The work has been published in PLoS One.
These findings refine and optimise current recombinant technologies, used globally for the production of proteins for the laboratory and the clinic. As a consequence of this discovery, larger amounts of key reagents can be delivered to our drug discovery programmes, accelerating the development of new therapies.
Click here to read more about the Drug Discovery Programme.
The Beatson Institute is very pleased to welcome Dr Ed Roberts as a new Junior Group Leader. Ed joins the Institute from UCSF, where he studied a class of immune cell called migratory dendritic cells and the role they play in the body’s response to cancer, and specifically how these cells communicate with the lymph nodes.
This immune response underpins a type of cancer treatment called immunotherapy, in which the body’s own immune system is used to fight cancer. Despite great successes with immunotherapy, it only works in a subset of patients. Ed’s group here at the Beatson will be investigating how the immune response could be boosted, with the aim of making immunotherapy successful for more patients.
Ed has said 'It’s been really great settling into an incredibly friendly and collaborative environment that has such exciting science going on. Everyone has been incredibly helpful with everything which has made the process of moving in much less painful than I had expected!'
Beatson Institue Director Owen Sansom has been interviewed by Bowel Cancer UK about an exciting project he is leading that aims to improve outcomes for bowel cancer patients. Click here to read the interview.
Another major project Owen is involved in - which aims to find out why different gene faults only cause cancer in particular parts of the body - has been covered by Cancer Research UK's blog.
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.'