Public lecture to explore cancer research at Bath

A free to attend public lecture on 27 February will explore the cancer research currently taking place here at the University of Bath.

The event follows the delivery of Bath's first MOOC - of Massive Open Online Course, titled 'Inside Cancer: how genes influence cancer development'. Over 7000 global students took the online six week course throughout January and February 2014.

While the lecture is open to attendees of that course, it aims to give information on Bath's current cancer research and is suitable for anyone to join. You do not need to register to attend, and the event is from 6pm - 7pm in the East Building 1.1.

The lecture, lead by Dr Momna Hejmadi with talks by Dr Andrew Chalmers and Dr Lorenzo Caggiano, summarises some of the cutting edge developments in Bath's research into cancer.

It will highlight research that builds on current understanding of the fundamental molecular and cellular processes underpinning cancer, leading into new cancer treatment targets identified by our medicinal chemists. The lecture will be an opportunity to explore the 'bench to bedside' process of cancer research.

If you're unable to come to campus for the course, you will be able to join us live online. You will also be able to join the question and answer element of the event by tweeting any questions you have for the presenters using the hashtag #insidecancer.

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To whet your appetite for the event, we have spoken to many of the University's cancer researchers and found out a little about their research:

Developing light activated suncream
Dr Charareh Pourzand and Dr Ian M. Eggleston

Sun creams activated by sunlight are likely to be available very soon.

Sun creams activated by sunlight are likely to be available very soon.

While many suncreams provide good protection against the sun’s UVB rays, the chief cause of skin reddening and sunburn, they provide less protection against more prevalent UVA rays. Scientists believe this may be one of the reasons why skin cancer incidence rates are increasing worldwide.

Through their research, Charareh and Ian have created an innovative ingredient which when applied in a suncream can act as a UVA filter and provide fuller protection against skin damage. The new compounds are light activated when exposed to relevant doses of UVA, and unique in how they release anti-oxidants to neutralise free radicals whilst at the same time capturing excess iron in the skin.

In the UK, over 100,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, of which 10,000 are malignant melanoma – the deadliest form of the disease and also the fifth most common cancer in the UK. This research could soon be helping to better protect skin and reduce the number of cases of this type of cancer.

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Treating prostate tumours
Professor Mike Threadgill

Prof Threadgill’s research aims to treat advanced prostate cancer - cancer that has reached a stage where it has stopped being responsive to normal hormonal therapy. This requires the ability to deliver drugs more effectively and actively to the tumour. Prof Threadgill’s research aims to find a way to deliver highly toxic drugs directly to cancer cells in the prostate.

Prof Threadgill is using large molecules called ‘polymers’ that dissolve in water as a delivery mechanism for drugs. Polymers get stuck in any solid cancer, as cancer cells don’t have an efficient system to drive them out again. He is attaching very toxic drugs to the polymers, to direct treatment specifically at cancerous cells.

Prof Threadgill has been working for 7 or 8 years to develop this method of drug delivery, and now has a working system that can be demonstrated in test tubes with prostate cancer cells. He is now refining the system, and will be looking to advance the process to target it at more advanced cellular systems in the near future.

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Exploring the anti-cancer properties of ibuprofen
Dr Matthew Lloyd, Dr Tim Woodman, Dr Andrew Thompson and Professor Mike Threadgill

Ibuprofen has anti-cancer properties.

Ibuprofen has anti-cancer properties.

Ibuprofen – a member of the family of drugs known as NSAIDs – is one of the most commonly taken non-prescription drugs alongside paracetamol and aspirin and there has for sometime been evidence to suggest that long-term users could be better protected against prostate cancer, some colon cancers and several other cancers as well.

Drs Lloyd, Woodman and Thompson and Prof Threadgill have been exploring ibuprofen to better understand the reasons for this observed anti-cancer property. The team has found that a process that the body uses to convert ibuprofen from one form to another, called ‘chiral inversion’, may have knock-on benefits in fighting cancer. The enzyme that performs chiral inversion is found in many types of cancers, and it is now thought that the body’s processing of ibuprofen inhibits this enzyme, stopping cancer development.

This research is important because the inter-disciplinary team of scientists involved are now able to take this new information and apply it in their work in drug design.

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Understanding the challenges of survivorship
Dr Julie Turner-Cob, Dr Paula Smith and Dr Mike Osborn

This research team is working in collaboration with the Royal United Hospital to develop an understanding of the concerns and post-treatment requirements of cancer patients.

Until recently, treatment has been the focus of cancer care, however as survival rates increase attention is being turned to the psychological care of survivors as they adapt to life following cancer treatment.

The team has interviewed cancer survivors to understand their experiences, and found four key themes that are particularly important to patients. The research group has also discussed these themes with hospital staff to determine how they viewed the challenges for cancer survivors.

From developing an understanding of the key concerns and difficulties experienced by cancer survivors, Julie has created a booklet that contains informational and emotional support to assist them in dealing with this new stage of their lives. She is now looking to test the success of the booklet in alleviating the concerns of cancer survivors, with a randomised trial run through hospitals

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Using daffodils to create cancer treatments
Dr Lorenzo Caggiano

Could daffodils hold a potential cancer treatment?

Could daffodils hold a potential cancer treatment?

The use of natural compounds, including those obtained from daffodils called pancratistatin and narciclasine, are being explored by Dr Lorenzo Caggiano and his group for the potential treatment of cancer.

Pancratistatin and narciclasine exhibit potent anti-cancer activities, but their availability is very limited, making it  impossible to obtain them in sufficient quantities to be considered as viable drug candidates. Currently, many steps are required to make these products synthetically, and so they have been deemed unsuitable for further detailed biological evaluation and clinical development.

However, Dr Caggiano’s group has developed and published a new synthetic methodology which is addressing this issue. The group is now applying the methodology to make new compounds which are closely related to the pancratistatin and narciclasine found in daffodils. This technique allows the research team to improve the efficiency of the process whilst retaining the anti-cancer potency of the compounds.

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Developing luminescent nanoparticles for cancer diagnosis
Dr Sofia Pascu

Sofia’s research is developing probes for imaging and the early detection of specific cancers. She is designing new luminescent nanoparticles which are tagged with antibodies and will take very specific action only on diseased tissue.

The probe developed by Sofia’s research group emits a light which can penetrate tissue in the body, making it particularly useful for imaging and diagnosing cancers - especially those in the alimentary tract and any other cancer types that are accessible via endoscopes.

The method developed at Bath is based on the principle of imaging-guided-therapy using extremely low doses of drugs. This could lead to the safe, extremely accurate, non-invasive and affordable early diagnosis of cancers, particularly those which are difficult to access. This type of imaging has the potential to deliver diagnosis of cancers such as breast, colon and prostate.

This year, the European Commission has announced the award of a European Consolidator Grant to Sofia Pascu, who was successful in the 2013 selection round: this will allow her to perform research in cancer cells sensing and imaging with metal complexes and nano materials over five years and is due to start July 2014.

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Cutting the side-effects of chemotherapy
Dr Semali Parera

Bath research is working to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.

Bath research is working to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy.

Semali has developed safe biodegradable fibres that can be impregnated with chemotherapy drugs and implanted into the body, near a tumour. The fibres then degrade and release the chemical, so that only the tumour site gets the drug, and not the rest of the body.

This has an advantage over current treatments, in which the drug is injected into a vein and carried around the body, often causing serious side effects.

At present, some cancer sufferers cannot be given all of the chemotherapy they need, in case the side effects prove fatal to them. This research could really minimise the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer patients - things like hair loss, loss of appetite, kidney damage and even heart failure. This could mean that larger doses of chemotherapy could be given safely, better treating cancers.

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Exploring the use of stem cell markers as new biomarkers for prostate cancer
Dr Andrew Chalmers (Lecturer, University of Bath).
Dr Mark Beresford and Dr Rebecca Bowen, Consultant Medical Oncologists, Royal United Hospital, Bath
Dr John Mitchard, Consultant in Cellular Pathology, Royal United Hospital, Bath

Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer in the UK with 100 new cases being diagnosed every day and 10,000 patients dying each year according to Cancer Research UK. However, it is a very variable disease. There is a pressing need to identify biological features (termed biomarkers) that can allow doctors to distinguish between aggressive tumours requiring radical intervention and those that have a good prognosis, where patients may be spared the potential side effects of treatment.

The discovery of cancer stem cells is one of the most exciting recent advances in cancer research. These cells have the ability to regenerate a tumour from a single cell and offer a potential explanation for the post-treatment recurrence of tumours. Hopefully, understanding their behaviour will lead to more effective diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

This project, lead at Bath by Dr Andrew Chalmers, is examining if markers of cancer stem cells can be used as new prostate cancer biomarkers. It combines expertise from the University and the Royal United Hospital to examine a range of stem cell markers in normal prostate and prostate cancer samples. The group is testing if stem cell markers, or a specific subset of them, may be used to identify the aggressive variants of prostate cancer.

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This image shows stained prostate cancer cells, which Ben Sharpe has been using in his research.

This image shows stained prostate cancer cells, which Ben Sharpe has been using in his research.

Diagnosing prostate cancer
Ben Sharpe

Ben is a PhD research student working with Dr Andrew Chalmers (above). His work is also focused on the development of ways to diagnose prostate cancer. Most prostate cancers grow slowly and don’t spread, so don’t pose huge risks to patient health, however some men relapse and develop a treatment-resistant disease.

Ben's research aims to identify proteins in human prostate cancer samples that will predict a relapse, so that treatment can be adjusted to suit individual risks and needs.

Ben’s research could potentially spare patients the side-effects of unnecessary treatment, such as incontinence and impotence. The research is also teaching us a great deal about the nature of cancer stem cells and how to target them to treat the disease.

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