World Cancer Day takes place today bringing together the best scientific achievements, the personal stories and the committed volunteers who work tirelessly to tackle this insidious and complex disease.
The University of Manchester is part of this global struggle and since the last World Cancer Day in February 2015, we’ve made great strides in research and our ability to bring the brightest minds together in world class facilities.
Not least, this included the opening of the new £28.5m building for the Manchester Cancer Research Centre in June. The University of Manchester building in Withington will be home to researchers from the Manchester Cancer Research Centre (MCRC) – a partnership between Cancer Research UK, The University of Manchester and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust.
The state-of-the-art facility, located opposite The Christie and the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, is set to pull in more world-class scientists to the city, boosting research and helping to get improved treatments to patients faster.
This opening was swiftly followed by a £5m investment from Cancer Research UK to help transform personalised medicine for cancer treatment, as the University builds its research base in line with our stated aim of Manchester being among the top five integrated cancer centres in the world by 2020.
All of this helps the brilliant minds working in Manchester to perform the research that will increase our understanding of how cancer works and find new ways to stop it.
And it’s the research that took centre stage for much of the last 12 months with new findings published almost every month.
February was no exception with one of the University’s great discoveries – graphene – involved. Studies showed that the revolutionary 2D material could have potential as a cancer treatment.
Patients are playing an increasing role in deciding which avenues researchers pursue. In March, a consortium headed by the University launched a survey which invited views on priorities in womb cancer research. Daloni Carlisle, aged 51, was diagnosed with womb cancer in February 2014. She is a mother of two and is now recovering after surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. "This initiative from the Womb Cancer Alliance to set out the research priorities is a great first step to addressing a huge knowledge gap," she said at the time.
It took just three minutes (or two minutes fifty-seven seconds to be more precise), for PHD student Fiona Henderson to win a Three Minute Thesis competition in April for presenting her research into cancer imaging.
A big advance came in May as a patient became the first to receive a new ‘resistance-busting’ experimental skin cancer drug with the launch of a phase I clinical trial.
Professor Richard Marais, Director of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute and leader of its research programme on panRAF inhibitors, said: “This trial is the culmination of over a decade of research. BRAF drugs can give valuable extra months of quality life to about half of melanoma patients, but sadly it is not a cure and most patients eventually develop resistance. These new drugs are engineered to get around this problem by shutting down the routes that tumours use to bypass BRAF drugs. They work very well in the laboratory and we look forward to now seeing if they also work well in patients.”
This trial is the culmination of over a decade of research.
Fast forward to July and another breakthrough as University researchers published results which showed combining chemotherapy with new drugs could drastically improve treatment.
The beginning of autumn saw the start of a new £11.5m partnership with AstraZeneca to apply clinical trial bioinformatics to better identify the right cancer treatment for the right patient at the right time. As part of the collaboration, AstraZeneca will provide a total of £11.5 million to support clinical bioinformatics research led by a dedicated team of investigators within the recently established Centre for Cancer Biomarker Sciences at the Manchester Cancer Research Centre.
Scientists let off a ‘grenade’ in October by developing new liposomes – small, bubble-like structures built out of cell membrane that are used to carry drugs into cancer cells. The challenge is to direct the liposomes and their payload directly to tumours while sparing healthy tissue. Two new studies showed the team has taken a step closer to solving this problem by fitting liposomes with a heat-activated trigger.
Also in October, we reported on a new scan technique that was developed by a University researcher and was reducing the radiation dose for both patients and medical staff by up to 30%, allowing an addition of an annual 100 scans a year at Central Manchester University Hospitals.
Completing an October hat-trick, one of President Obama’s top advisors on cancer came to the University to talk about possible collaborations for breast cancer research.
And finally, in December, new results from the world’s biggest ovarian cancer screening trial, involving The University of Manchester suggested that screening based on an annual blood test may help reduce the number of women dying from the disease by around 20%.
Through its talented scientists and students, working in the best possible facilities, The University of Manchester has made new advances since World Cancer Day 2015 that begin to chip away at the huge challenge of cancer. Through their efforts and the work to come in the years ahead, more and more people will survive.
I did not have any symptoms at the time of diagnosis and if I had not been involved in the study, it may have not been picked up on. As a mother of two daughters, I can’t explain how important research like this is to improve diagnosis of ovarian cancer and to help others.
To look to the future of cancer research, we've also recorded a video with Professor Sir Salvador Moncada, Institute Director of Cancer Sciences at The University of Manchester and one of the world’s foremost researchers on the subject.