Leicester makes major strides in cancer studies

The University of Leicester is securing its place as a centre of excellence in cancer studies.

The University of Leicester’s commitment to tackling cancer – one of the greatest challenges of our generation – has seen it make great strides in researching the
disease and developing cutting edge treatments.

The dedication and innovation of our top-notch cancer researchers has attracted more than £30 million in funding from external bodies in four years. This has coincided with a string of developments that has seen the University establish itself as one of 18
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres in the UK and a world leader in cancer prevention research. During this time, the University has formed an academic Department of Oncology and a crossdepartmental Cancer Theme, as well as maintaining an ongoing partnership with
Leicester’s NHS hospitals.

Leading cancer charity Cancer Research UK has also agreed to work with our researchers to establish the University as a Centre of Excellence after a steady
increase in the quality of cancer care and research here. This will position Leicester as one of 18 leading institutions in the UK – and the only one in the East Midlands. The accolade will help the Cancer Theme in its aims to sustain leading research, improve links with the Leicestershire public and improve patient care on a national and international level.

The University, in partnership with Leicester’s Hospitals, has opened a Clinical Trials Centre at Leicester Royal Infirmary, thanks to generous funding from Leicestershire and Rutland cancer research charity Hope Against Cancer. It will provide the East Midlands with a centre for the latest clinical cancer research made at the University.

Leading the University’s cancer research is Professor Catrin Pritchard, who has taken up the reins as head of the Cancer Theme. The theme is a multi-disciplinary research programme consisting of 52 academic staff across the Departments of Biochemistry, Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine, Cell Physiology and Pharmacology, Chemistry and Genetics
and also colleagues within the MRC Toxicology Unit and the NHS.

Professor Pritchard started at Leicester as a lecturer in the department of Biochemistry, having come to the University in 1995 after working at DNAX Research Institute, California. She will coordinate the separate cancer research strands across the Cancer
Theme with a view to achieving Cancer Research UK’s Centre of Excellence status.

Professor Pritchard said: “I first started working in the field of cancer research in the 1980s because of the importance it has for patient benefit and the whole of human kind. There were some extraordinary new discoveries being made at the time that changed our way
of thinking about cancer and this was highly motivational for me.

“I now feel cancer research has come full circle. It is a really fantastic time to be
involved as we are developing treatments from the discoveries that were first made back in the ‘80s. Leicester could definitely be at the forefront of research, especially in the areas of targeted therapies and chemoprevention.”

Case study:
Can curry combat cancer?

There is some evidence that curcumin is capable of killing carcinogenic cells without harming adjacent healthy cells, which makes it potentially very useful in the treatment of cancer. But what is required of any potential cancer treatment, including naturally occurring substances such as curcumin, is solid evidence that not only is it beneficial but that such benefits more than outweigh any negative aspects of the treatment regime.

Researchers at Leicester, led by Dr Karen Brown and Dr Lynne Howells from our Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine, are looking into the use of curcumin as an adjunct or follow-up to chemotherapy in colorectal cancer, targeting the small groups of cells which can survive chemotherapy and cause the cancer to return. This research is funded by local charity Hope Against Cancer.

A key resource that will help facilitate these developments is theUniversity’s Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC), which has been awarded £1.25 million in funding for a further five years from Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health Research. The centre allows the University’s cancer researchers to liaise with clinical staff at Leicester’s hospitals and test new treatments they have developed in the University’s laboratories.

Researchers will be able to continue working with patients directly to test chemoprevention drugs that can reduce the risk of cancer, as well as experimental treatments for a variety of cancers, with a particular emphasis on lung cancer and

The centre, which was opened in April 2007, employs six staff members and involves more than 40 cancer researchers from the University of Leicester’s College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology and clinical staff at Leicester’s hospitals. The network aims to bring together lab scientists with cancer doctors to speed up the flow of ideas from the lab bench to the patient’s bedside.

Professor Will Steward, Head of the University’s Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine who jointly leads the Centre with ProfessorKaren Brown, said: “The renewal of funding and membership of the ECMC Network keeps Leicester at the forefront
of cancer drug development and allows us to develop discoveries made in ourlaboratories into new approaches to treatment by moving them rapidly into clinical trials.

“It is extremely exciting and adds to the ability of the UK to contribute to advances in helping people to prevent or
treat cancer.”

This article originally appeared in LE1 Winter 2012

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