AICR's donors finance fundamental scientific research into the causes of cancer. They are currently supporting the work of more than 174 scientists in 20 countries. They are funding in excess of 175 projects in over 100 of the world's top scientific establishments.
.......if there is no investment in research today, tomorrow's cancer sufferers will be condemned to today's treatments.
Norman Barrett, AICR Chief Executive
Each of the projects is examining a crucial aspect of cancer, its processes and causes. Here is a flavour of some of the work currently being carried out.
- How does the reduction in stomach acid help progression of cancer?
Professor Mark Pritchard
University of Liverpool, England
AICR Grant: £198,467 for 2.75 years
Stomach cancer is a common and life-threatening disease, which nearly always develops in people who have had a long-term infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. One of the pre-cancerous stages of the disease is called ‘atrophy’ which destroys some of the acid-producing cells in the stomach. As a result, the pH within the stomach becomes higher than normal, making it less acidic and more alkaline (known as hypochlorhydria). Studies in mice have shown that this elevated pH allows other microorganisms, such as bacteria, to start growing in the stomach, where they would not normally survive. It is believed that the presence of these bacteria contributes to the development of cancer within the stomach. Curiously, however, long-term use of acid-suppressing drugs does not have the same effect. Professor Pritchard is therefore going to use his new AICR grant to study the stomach environment in mice that develop cancer following Helicobacter pylori infection, in the hope that the studies will identify molecules that indicate those people who are more likely to develop cancer. If he identifies such molecules, these could be used to develop a better screening programme for patients who may be at risk of developing stomach cancer.
- Using nanocapsules to improve efficiency of radiotherapy
Dr Khuloud Al-Jamal
King's College London, England
AICR Grant: £197,494 for 3 years
Radiotherapy is one of the main forms of treatment against cancer. High energy rays are directed to the cancer-affected area in order to destroy the cancerous cells, in an attempt to cause as little damage as possible to healthy cells. However, when the beams are fired at the tumour from outside the body they need to pass through the healthy tissues that surround the tumour first. Several other mechanisms for delivering radiotherapy are being tested that could be much more effective than the current method. Nanocapsules (small capsules that are one-thousandth the size of a human hair) that can be filled with small doses of therapeutic radioactive particles are being tested to see if they can kill tumour cells. Nanocapsules are also being tested for the transport of other particles, such as drugs to treat other diseases. With her new AICR grant, Dr Al-Jamal will test whether small molecules, called siRNAs, which are thought to make cancer cells more susceptible to radiotherapy, can be delivered to tumours at the same time as the radioactive particles, using the nanocapsules. If successful, this new technique could reduce the toxic effects of radiotherapy in healthy tissues, and the side effects that patients experience.
- Understanding the role of LOXL2 in the development of skin and breast cancer
Professor Amparo Cano
Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Madrid, Spain
AICR Grant: £206,813 for 3 years
One of the main factors making tumours so dangerous is their ability to invade surrounding tissues and organs and spread throughout the body. This is known as metastasis. Individual cancer cells squeeze between the normal cells nearby and push their way through the tissue. They are then carried in the blood stream and can form new tumours in other parts of the body, known as secondary tumours or metastases. In the last decade, significant findings have shed some light on the processes that enable cancer cells to spread. This involved the identification of key molecules for tumour spread. Professor Cano’s research team have previously described the interactions of some of these molecules with a molecule called LOXL2. She will be using her new AICR grant to reveal the role of a molecule called LOXL2 in tumour development and metastasis. The work will mainly focus on breast and skin tumours.
- What is the risk of leukemia in children and young adults following radiation exposure from computed tomography?
Dr Michael Hauptmann
The Netherlands Cancer Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
AICR Grant: £236,108 for 3 years
Computed tomography (CT scan) is a type of medical scan that takes a series of x-rays from different angles of your body. These appear as ‘slices’ of a part of your body, and these slices can be put together to give a very detailed image of the inside of your body. The CT scan delivers much higher doses of radiation than most other imaging techniques which are used to detect or diagnose ailments. This is why doctors only use them when there are no alternatives, and the benefits greatly outweigh the risks. There has been a large increase in the use of CT in the last 10-15 years. As a result, radiation protection, especially among children needs to be monitored and reviewed. Children are particularly sensitive to radiation-induced cancer, and have a long life ahead of them in which to express possible side effects, such as an increased risk of leukemia. 57 million CT scans were carried out in the US in 2007. It is estimated that these scans can be linked to 29,000 cancers occurring in those patients’ lifetime, of which more than 4,000 are from CT scanning during childhood. Dr Hauptmann will use his AICR grant to look at the records of Dutch childhood CT scans and compare them to the Netherlands Cancer Registry to study whether there is a potential link. These results will contribute to a European study investigating risk for rarer forms of cancer. Dr Hauptmann’s study will thereby provide safety information for this invaluable method, as well as contributing to our knowledge of childhood and young adult leukaemia and risks associated with low-dose radiation.
- Studying the link between obesity and liver cancer
Professor Tony Tiganis
Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
AICR Grant: £273,118 for 3 years
Primary liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world. Most liver cancers start after cancer cells have spread from a different part of the body, this is called secondary cancer. Primary liver cancer, where the liver is the first place that the tumour grows, is one the third most common cause of death from cancers worldwide, and survival rates are very low. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common form of primary liver cancer, accounting for 90% of cases. HCC is more common in developing countries, where it is associated with long term Hepatitis B infection. HCC has almost doubled in the US & nearly tripled in Australia in the last 20 years, and the obesity epidemic is believed to play a large part in this drastic increase. Professor Tiganis will be using his new AICR to study the molecular changes that happen within the liver as a result of obesity, and how these molecular changes can lead to HCC.
- Studying a new mechanism that makes tumours resistant to drugs
Professor Kevin Ryan
Beatson Institute for Cancer Research, Glasgow, Scotland
AICR Grant: £194,499 for 3 years
Chemotherapy drugs are used to kill cancer cells. Drug treatments don’t always work because some cancers become resistant to drugs. They are resistant because cancer cells have molecules on their surface, called drug transporters, that basically ‘spit out’ the drugs from inside the cell, where the drug would normally kill it. Healthy cells also have drug transporters, but in tumours there are many more. So far, scientists have identified three main drug transporters that are involved in chemotherapy resistance. Unfortunately, they do not know why there are so many more drug transporters on cancer cells compared to healthy cells. Professor Ryan and his team have identified a protein within tumours that controls the growth of these drug transporters, and that this protein can prevent cancer cells from being killed by chemotherapy drugs because of drug transporters on the cells. With this AICR grant, they want to further investigate how this protein controls drug transporters and how it is linked to human cancer.