Leicester at the heart of new research to revolutionise understanding of lung cancer

Posted by er134 at Jul 19, 2013 12:55 PM |
University of Leicester to play key role in unlocking lung cancer's secrets

Issued by Cancer Research UK on July 19 2013

LEICESTER is set to play a key role in a world-first Cancer Research UK study that will unlock lung cancer’s secrets.

The project, involving experts from the University of Leicester and Leicester University Hospitals, will track how lung tumours develop and evolve in real time as patients receive treatment.

One of the largest ever studies of lung cancer patients globally, it will examine exactly how lung cancers mutate, adapt and become resistant to treatments.

The nine year, £14 million, UK wide study - called TRACERx (Tracking Cancer Evolution through Therapy) and launched today by Cancer Research UK - will receive one of the single biggest funding commitments to lung cancer. Researchers will recruit 850 lung cancer patients* from across the UK and take samples of their tumour before and following surgery and subsequently if the disease recurs.

Biopsies will be taken from different parts of each patient’s tumour and analysed with the latest technology to give a more comprehensive genetic profile. Different parts of a tumour can evolve independently, so a sample from one region alone might contain different genetic changes to another sample, elsewhere in the tumour.

Other research centres taking part are: University College London, Velindre Cancer Centre Cardiff, Manchester’s Christie Hospital, The University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust and the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Every year, around 3,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the East Midlands** and around 2,400 people die.*** The disease has been difficult to study as it can be hard to access and take samples of tumours. An earlier Cancer Research UK innovation means that patients will also have blood tests to examine DNA from the cancer that might be circulating in the bloodstream.

Researchers will then be able to compare genetic changes within and between patients, record how the treatment changes the genetic profile of their disease, and how this ultimately affects the patients’ chances of survival.

The combination of these techniques will give an unprecedented insight into lung cancer and allow researchers to identify and understand the precise genetic makeup of lung cancers. The results will also lay the foundations for being able to offer patients treatment that is tailored to the specific genetic makeup of their cancer.

This landmark study will bring together more than 65 lung cancer researchers in the UK, including oncologists, pathologists, laboratory researchers and technicians based in hospitals, universities and research institutes.

The study marks the start of a new Cancer Research UK initiative to beat lung cancer sooner which will also see the funding of a new centre of excellence in lung cancer research.

Scientific advances have helped more people survive cancer than ever before. But progress has not been consistent across all cancer types, and some have lagged behind.

One of these is lung cancer - which is the most common cause of cancer death in the UK, and only nine per cent of patients survive their disease beyond five years.

Cancer Research UK plans to change this by investing heavily in lung cancer in the coming years. The new initiative will help focus attention on lung cancer and galvanise the research community, drawing in existing lung cancer experts and opening doors for new talent.

Professor Dean Fennell, chair of thoracic medical oncology at the University of Leicester and Leicester Hospitals,  who is leading the clinical research in Leicester, said: “Success in treating lung cancer has been difficult to achieve but we’re hoping to change that.

“The first step to improving cancer diagnosis and treatment is to understand more about the disease and how it changes over time. We plan to harness new sequencing technologies to trace the genetic evolution of cancer over the course of the disease. Our research will help explain why lung cancer is difficult to treat, and steer a path towards saving more lives.

Professor Jacqui Shaw, Chair of Translation Cancer Genetics at the University of Leicester,  who is leading the blood based studies in Leicester, said:  “Leicester will take a leading role in the detection of lung cancer specific DNA in the blood. This so-called "liquid biopsy" is a state of the art approach to fingerprint lung cancer using DNA sequencing that could have future utility in enabling early detection and prediction of cancer drug activity.

“Lung cancer remains a devastating disease and one that has seen little improvement in the outcome for patients. This new research will help provide answers to what happens on a genetic level to lung cancer and give us a clearer picture on how we can improve treatments for patients . The work we’ll be doing will help lift the lid on lung cancer’s complex biology. Research is key to beating cancer sooner and Leicester will be playing a vital role in this.”

Dr Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “Lung cancer kills more people than any other type of cancer. We want to change this. For too long, success against the disease has been slow. We’re determined to unlock the secrets of the disease, to understand its biology, to develop more accurate tests to diagnose it and discover better treatments for people.

“TRACERx is key to achieving this. Our researchers will revolutionise what we know of the disease, how we think about it and ultimately will help us to save lives. Our commitment to beating lung cancer is only possible with the generous support of people from across the UK. ”

Robert Peston, the BBC’s business editor, has a personal connection to lung cancer and said: “Lung cancer is the biggest cancer killer, and can afflict any of us, old or young, smokers or non-smokers. I know this only too well because my non-smoking wife, Sian Busby, died last year at the age of 51. Unfortunately, as Sian and I learned, medical science's understanding of this terrible disease lags behind knowledge of other cancers. That is why the planned genetic analysis of many hundreds of lung cancer tumours, of the TRACERx programme being announced today, feels like an important and positive development."



For media enquiries contact: Paula Young or Jane Redman, regional press officers at Cancer Research UK on 07786 510438 (MON-WED) or 07918 650670 (WED-FRI)

Notes to editor:

*Non Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) patients will be recruited.

* Annual average number of cases of trachea, bronchus and lung cancer (C33-C34) in the East Midlands Government Office Region 2008-2010. Source: These data were extracted from the UK Cancer Information Service, version 4.5b 001 on 16/07/2013.

**Annual average number of deaths from trachea, bronchus and lung cancer (C33-C34) in the East Midlands Government Office Region 2008-2010. Source: These data were extracted from the UK Cancer Information Service, version 4.5a 001 on 19/11/2012.

Around 42,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK every year, with around 35,000 deaths from the disease. NSCLC’s make up about 78 out of every 100 lung cancers diagnosed in England and Wales.

About Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research
  • Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.
  • The charity’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates in the UK double in the last forty years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

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