Grants starting October 2009 and ending October 2012
Grant Holder: Dr Giovanni Tonon
Institution: Fondazione Centro San Raffaele del Monte Tabor, Milan, Italy
Grant Award: £111,020 for 3 years
Project Title: Understanding internal communications in multiple myeloma cells
Multiple myeloma is a cancer that develops when a type of bone marrow cell grows and divides in an uncontrolled manner. All cells contain complex communication pathways that control when they grow, divide and die and these become unregulated in cancer cells. With a grant from AICR Dr Giovanni Tonon is studying a communication pathway called the WNT pathway in order to understand what goes wrong in these cells to cause multiple myeloma. Dr Giovanni Tonon hopes that his work will identify new targets to make better drugs for multiple myeloma in the future.
Grant Holder: Dr Janine Erler
Institution: Institute of Cancer Research, London, England
Grant Award: £205,940 for 3 years
Project Title: How do cancer cells prepare their new site during cancer spread?
Cancer spread, known as metastasis, is responsible for around nine out of ten cancer deaths. It was recently discovered that, before they spread to another organ, tumours send a protein called lysyl oxidase to the new site to prepare it to receive the spreading cancer cells. This process of preparation involves bone marrow cells moving to the new site, drawn there by lysyl oxidase. Dr Janine Erler is using her AICR grant to study how the lysyl oxidase and the bone marrow cells interact with each other and with the normal cells at the new site and how this prepares the site for cancer cells to grow into a secondary tumour. Understanding how cancer spreads and finding ways to prevent it could save millions of lives in the future.
Grant Holder: Dr Andreas Schedl
Institution: INSERM U636, Nice, France
Grant Award: £175,505 for 3 years
Project Title: Investigating Wilms tumours – a type of childhood kidney cancer
Wilms tumours are a type of kidney cancer that affects children. The tumours can begin when the baby is inside the mother and the kidneys are developing, or they can develop when the child is older, around 3 or 4. Cells that should become kidney cells begin to grow out of control and develop into a cancer tumour. The causes of Wilms tumours are poorly understood so Dr Andreas Schedl is using his AICR grant to study the changes in specific genes which are known to be involved in Wilms tumours.
Grant Holder: Dr Yong-Jie Lu
Institution: Barts and The Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry, England
Grant Award: £192,685 for 3 years
Project Title: Investigating testicular and prostate cancer at the genetic level
The way that cells grow, divide and die is normally tightly controlled by certain genes. Cancer is caused by damage to these genes which makes the cells to grow and divide in an uncontrolled manner, forming a tumour. Dr Yong-Jie Lu is using his AICR grant to study a gene called ZDHHC14 which he believes has a vital role in preventing tumours developing from healthy cells. He is investigating how ZDHHC14 controls cell growth and how it becomes damaged or deleted in prostate and testicular cancer.
Grant Holder: Dr Florian Greten
Institution: Technical University Munich, Germany
Grant Award: £187,200 for 3 years
Project Title: How does serrated bowel cancer develop?
Most cancers occur in people over 60 and are caused by damage to their genes over the course of their lifetime. The majority of bowel cancers start with damage to the APC gene, followed by a reasonably well-understood series of other changes, leading to the cells becoming cancerous. With funding from AICR Dr Greten is studying a particular type of bowel cancer called a serrated cancer, which appears to start differently, with damage to genes called BRAF and KRAS. He has bred a new strain of mice in which damage to these genes causes them to get serrated bowel cancers and he will use these mice to study the other steps involved in the development of this type of bowel cancer.
Grant Holder: Dr Antonella Viola
Institution: Fondazione per la Ricerca, Milan, Italy
Grant Award: £86,670 for 2 years
Project Title: Avoiding attack by the immune system- how cancer cells dodge death
Our immune system is able to attack and destroy foreign molecules such as bacteria, viruses and even some cancer cells. But cancer cells can develop mechanisms to ‘turn down’ the immune system to ensure that they stay alive. Dr Viola is investigating one of these mechanisms which involves the production of chemicals called ‘reactive nitrogen species’ by prostate cancers. These chemicals appear to alter the ‘messenger’ molecules that control the immune system, which may prevent it from attacking the cancer cells. Dr Viola aims to find out how these ‘reactive nitrogen species’ do this which may be important for designing new prostate cancer treatments.
Grant Holder: Professor Henri-Jaques Delecluse
Institution: German cancer Research centre (DKFZ), Heidelberg, Germany
Grant Award: £180,450 for 3 years
Project Title: Making an anti-viral vaccine safe for use in the fight against cancer
Some viruses are associated with certain types of cancer. The Epstein-Barr virus is associated with some lymphomas, carcinomas and childhood cancers. Immunising people against this virus may be a way to prevent these cancers. It may also be possible to treat some of these cancers by using the immune system to recognise and kill the infected cells. This can be done by using small, harmless parts of the virus to ‘kick-start’ the immune system into fighting the Epstein-Barr virus. Before this could ever be given to patients rigorous safety tests must be done and the treatment must be shown to be effective. With funding from the AICR Professor Henri-Jacques Delecluse is trying to improve the safety of this technique and to increase its effectiveness at fighting the Epstein-Barr virus in order for it to be developed into a vaccine to treat or prevent these cancers.
Grant Holder: Professor Giorgio Scita
Institution: IFOM The FIRC Institute of Molecular Oncology Foundation, Milan, Italy
Grant Award: £101,850 for 3 years
Project Title: SOS if you are ABL – how are the SOS and ABL genes involved in leukaemia?
The ABL molecule plays a key role in the cause of some types of leukaemia, by permanently switching on important communication pathways in white blood cells. However, it is not yet known how it does this. Professor Scita has identified a molecule known as SOS-1 which he believes has a critical role in one of these pathways. SOS-1 may also be involved in solid tumours, known as melanomas, as high levels of a modified and active form of SOS-1 have been found there. Professor Scita will use his AICR grant to investigate the links between ABL and SOS-1 in these communication pathways to understand how they cause leukaemia and solid tumours.
Grant Holder: Professor Clare Isacke
Institution: The Institute of Cancer Research, London, England
Grant Award: £194,895 for 3 years
Project Title: Why do some women become resistant to tamoxifen treatment for breast cancer?
The growth of many breast cancers is dependent on the hormone oestrogen. An effective treatment for these breast cancers is tamoxifen, which works by blocking oestrogen from attaching to its receptor. However, some breast cancers are resistant to this treatment or they can develop resistance over time. Professor Isacke has found that a molecule known as RET is involved in this resistance. With her grant from AICR she will investigate how RET alters the oestrogen pathways in cells. She will confirm her lab-based results using clinical samples from breast cancer patients and then develop a model system in fruit flies to begin the search for potential new drugs to overcome tamoxifen resistance in breast cancer treatment.
Grant Holder: Professor Gerard Evan
Institution: University of California, San Francisco, USA
Grant Award: £174,143 for 3 years
Project Title: Breathe easy – developing a new treatment for lung cancer
The greatest difficulty with developing more effective cancer treatments with fewer side effects is finding how to kill cancer cells specifically whilst leaving healthy cells unharmed. Professor Evan has found a way of blocking the function of Myc, an essential regulator of cancer cells, and has shown that this leads to the selective death of tumors but not healthy tissues. Professor Evan is using his AICR grant to investigate how and why blocking Myc selectively kills lung cancer cells. He will also investigate whether cancers can develop resistance to blocking Myc function. His suspicion is they cannot because Myc is so essential for the survival of cancer cells and therefore, drugs that block Myc will hopefully not be plagued by the problem of cancers developing drug resistance. Professor Evan hopes that targeting Myc will prove to be a powerful and specific way to fight many, perhaps all, cancers, with minimal side effects and will lead to the development of new anti-cancer drugs.
Grant Holder: Dr Mauro Modesti
Institution: Centre national de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), Marscille cedex 20, France
Grant Award: £178,264 for 3 years
Project Title: How does damaged DNA get repaired?
Cancer can be caused by damage to the DNA which makes up our genes. This damage can be due to many things such as UV from sunlight or chemicals in cigarette smoke. Our cells have mechanisms which can detect and repair this damage to prevent diseases such as cancer from occurring. Dr Modesti is investigating how cells repair this DNA damage by a process known as homologous recombination. One protein that has an important role in this process is RAD51AP1 but how and when it is involved is unknown and so this is the focus of Dr Modesti’s AICR funded work.
Grant Holder: Professor Richard Marais
Institute: The Institute of Cancer research, London, England
Grant Award: £196,852 for 3 years
Project Title: New ways to stop skin cancer
Malignant melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and does not respond well to current drug treatments. Many of the important communication pathways within the cells, such as the RAF/MEK/ERK pathway are overly active. This causes the cells to grow and divide in a rapid and uncontrolled manner and form a tumour. Professor Marais is trying to block the activity of several molecules known to have vital roles in these pathways as well as trying to find new molecules to target. He hopes that by blocking these communication pathways he will be able to find new and better drug targets so more effective treatments can be developed for melanoma patients.
Grant Holder: Dr Iannis Talianidis
Institution: Institute of Molecular Biology and genetics, BSRC Alexander Fleming, Athens, Greece
Grant Award: £170,052 for 3 years
Project Title: How incorrect ‘tagging’ of proteins can contribute to cancer
Every cell in our body contains thousands of genes that act as blueprints to produce proteins that are essential for the cells to function. For example how cells grow, divide and die is tightly controlled by our genes. The activity of the genes can be increased or decreased by the addition of specific molecules or tags. The addition of tags - known as methyl groups - to the proteins associated with genes can lead to an increase in gene activity. This often happens incorrectly in cancers and the increase in gene activity drives the cell to keep growing and dividing. Dr Talianidis is using his AICR funding to study two proteins called Set9 and Smyd3 which have been implicated in cancer as they can add methyl groups to the proteins of genes involved in cell growth and cell death.
Grant Holder: Dr Stuart Tangye
Institution: Garvan Institute of Medical research, Darlinghurst, Australia
Grant Award: £156,500 for 3 years
Project Title: What is the link between the XLP disease and cancer?
XLP disease is an inherited condition where people have a weakened immune system. Patients with XLP often develop lymphomas (cancers of the lymph system) when they are infected with the Epstein Barr virus. Dr Tangye is using his AICR grant to investigate how and why XLP causes a weakened immune system and why Epstein Barr virus infection so often causes these patients to develop lymphomas. This work may also be relevant for people with other Epstein Barr virus-related tumours and could help find new ways to prevent the tumours from occurring in the future.
Grant Holder: Professor Ivan Gout
Institution: University College London, England
Grant Award: £191,538 for 3 years
Project Title: Controlling the size and growth rate of living cells
Professor Gout is using his AICR grant to investigate a protein called S6K which has a vital role in controlling the size and growth of cells. A critical protein like S6K must normally be tightly regulated to make sure that cells do not grow beyond a certain size. When cells become cancerous, the activity of S6K is increased to keep pace with their rapid growth and division. Professor Gout is investigating how S6K is regulated in cells by the addition of specific molecules in a process known as acetylation.
Grant Holder: Dr Eugenio Montini
Institution: Fondazione Centro San Raffaele del Monte Tabor-DIBIT, Milan, Italy
Grant Award: £190,000 for 3 years
Project Title: Hunting for genes involved in liver cancer
Every cell in our body contains thousands of genes that act as blueprints to produce proteins which are essential for the cells to function. Some genes control how cells grow and divide and when these genes become overactive, they cause the cells to multiply rapidly and may cause cancer. These are known as oncogenes. Dr Montini has designed a virus which can over activate genes in the liver. Using this virus he will be able to discover new oncogenes involved in liver cancer.
Grant Holder: Dr Núria Malats
Institution: Spanish National Cancer Centre, Madrid, Spain
Grant Award: £151,522 for 3 years
Project Title: Investigating the involvement of trace metals in bladder cancer
Worldwide, an estimated 356,600 new cases of bladder cancer are diagnosed each year and it is more common in men than women. Many risk factors are already known such as smoking tobacco, age, inherited genes and certain chemicals but other risk factors may exist. In a grant funded by AICR Dr Núria Malats is investigating the involvement of trace metals including arsenic, lead and selenium in increasing bladder cancer risk. She will compare the levels of these metals in samples from patients with and without bladder cancer and looking at how other factors such as smoking or genetic inheritence can influence the risk of bladder cancer.
Grant Holder: Dr Thorbald van Hall
Institution: Leiden University Medical Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands
Grant Award: £168,435 for 3 years
Project Title: Can our immune system be used to fight cancer?
Our immune system is able to attack and destroy foreign molecules such as bacteria, viruses and even some cancer cells. However, some cancers are able to prevent the immune system from recognising them. This means that the cancer cells are not attacked by the immune system and the tumours can continue growing. Dr Thorbald van Hall has recently discovered a new type of immune system cell which can recognise these tumours and attack them, but leave healthy cells unharmed. With his AICR grant Dr van Hall will be evaluating how effective and how safe this system is as a potential new treatment potential for cancer.
Grant Holder: Dr Jesper Svejstrup
Institution: CRUK London Research Institute, England
Grant Award: £180,477 for 3 years
Project Title: Recovering from DNA damage using the protein RECQ
Cancer can be caused by damage to the DNA which makes up our genes. This damage can be caused by many things such as UV from sunlight or chemicals in cigarette smoke. Our cells have mechanisms which can detect and repair this damage to prevent diseases such as cancer from occurring. One protein that has a major role in protecting our DNA from severe damage is RECQ. If this protein is lost or damaged the cells are more susceptible to becoming cancerous, as the DNA cannot be repaired following damage. With funding from AICR Dr Svejstrup is investigating exactly what role RECQ plays in repairing DNA damage.
Grant Holder: Dr Andreas Möller
Institution: Peter Callum Cancer Centre, Australia
Grant Award: £240,358 for 3 years
Project Title: How do new blood vessels form in tumours?
In order for tumours to grow larger than about 1 millimetre in diameter they must have their own blood supply to enable enough oxygen to reach the cells. Dr Möller has discovered that mice lacking the siah2 gene develop breast cancer slower or later, because their early tumours do not have the cells which are thought to stimulate the growth of new blood vessels. He is using his AICR grant to investigate what the siah proteins do in tumours and what role they play in the formation of new blood vessels in tumours. By understanding how new blood vessels form in tumours scientists can begin to find ways to prevent it from occurring and therefore stop the tumours from growing.
Grant Holder: Dr Walbert Bakker
Institution: Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Grant Award: £205,172 for 3 years
Project Title: How to starve tumour cells of oxygen
In order for tumours to grow larger than about 1 millimetre across they must establish their own blood supply to enable enough oxygen to reach the cells. Most tumours have a lack of oxygen which is the major trigger for the growth of new blood vessels. The trigger mechanism involves a molecule called HIF. Blocking the activity of HIF has been shown to impair the growth of tumours. With funding from AICR, Dr Bakker is studying how HIF works in cells to find new ways to block the growth of blood vessels in cancers.
Grant Award: Professor Christopher Mathew
Institution: Kings College London School of Medicine, England
Grant Award: £65,672 for 3 years
Project Title: Studying oesophageal cancer in the South African population
Oesophageal cancer (cancer of the gullet or foodpipe) has a very low survival rate and is quite common in South Africa. The causes of the disease are not well understood but are probably due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Professor Mathew has been awarded an AICR grant to identify the genetic factors that are associated with an increased risk of oesophageal cancer in the South African population.
Grant Holder: Professor Mark Searle
Institution: University of Nottingham, England
Grant Award: £91,900 for 3 years
Project Title: Using computers to determine the shape of a G quadruplex DNA structure
The growth of many cancers, including breast and some uterine, are stimulated by the female sex hormone oestrogen. Oestrogen is a small molecule that interacts with the much larger oestrogen receptor protein, acting as a 'key' to open the 'lock' for cell growth to occur. Computer analysis of the DNA sequence that provides the blue print for making the receptor protein reveals that it has the ability to adopt an unusual shape, called a G quadruplex. Professor Searle is using his AICR grant to analyse the shape of the DNA when it adopts this structure, with the long-term aim of developing new drugs which can block cancer cell growth by turning-off the manufacture of the important oestrogen receptor protein.
Grant Holder: Dr Hiro Yamano
Institution: University College London, England
Grant Award: £178,992 for 3 years
Project Title: Doing the splits – how do cells divide?
Cancer is a disease in which cells divide and multiply rapidly and out of control. To understand more about the mechanism of cancer, scientists have been investigating the system inside cells which controls how and when they divide. A group of proteins which work as nanomachinery inside the cell and are called APC/C are one of the main components of this system. Dr Yamano will use his AICR grant to investigate several key proteins that the APC/C interacts with and how chemical changes to these proteins play a part in controlling cell division.
Grant Holder: Professor Paul Clarke
Institution: University of Dundee, Scotland
Grant Award: £166,592 for 3 years
Project Title: Cell suicide – what pushes cells over the edge?
Cancer can be initiated by damage to the DNA inside our cells. This damage can be caused by many things such as UV from sunlight or chemicals in cigarette smoke. We are exposed to this type of damage constantly throughout our lives and our cells have mechanisms which can detect and repair many types of damage to prevent diseases such as cancer from occurring. However, if the damage cannot be repaired, the cells are able to kill themselves in a process known as apoptosis. In fact many cancer drugs work by causing enough damage to make the cancer cells undergo apoptosis. Using an AICR grant Professor Clarke is investigating one of the mechanisms the cells use to detect damaged DNA and determining how the cells respond to the damage.
Grant Holder: Professor Kari Alitalo
Institution: University of Helsinki, Finland
Grant Award: £208,518 for 3 years
Project Title: How to block tumours getting their own blood supply
In order for tumours to grow larger than about 1 millimetre across they must establish their own blood supply to enable enough oxygen to reach the cells. Several drugs that block the formation of new blood vessels have recently been approved for use against cancer but tumours can often become resistant to their effects. New ways to block the growth of blood vessels in tumours must be found and this is the focus of Professor Alitalos’s AICR funded grant. In particular he will be studying a protein called VEGFR-3 which plays a major role in stimulating the growth of new blood vessels. Blocking its action could lead to more effective cancer treatments in the future.
Grant Holder: Professor Tatiana Petrova
Institution: University of Lausanne and CHUV, Epalinges, Switzerland
Grant Award: £114,784 for 3 years
Project Title: What role does PROX1 play in bowel cancer?
Professor Petrova her collaborators have recently found that there are often very high levels of a protein called PROX1 in bowel cancers. It appears to control the progression from a benign tumour into a cancerous tumour. Using her AICR grant Professor Petrova aims to understand how PROX1 is able to make this change by identifying how it works in cancer cells. Her results will potentially be important for the development of new anti-cancer therapies in the future.