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ICR researchers focus on smart treatments at leading cancer conference

4 April 2014 

Scientists from The Institute of Cancer Research, London, are making the trip to San Diego this weekend for one of the biggest dates in the cancer calendar – the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) conference.

The meeting provides an opportunity for scientists to share their findings with their peers and make new collaborations with researchers from other institutions around the world. Representatives of the ICR will present the results of more than 25 different studies, many of which will never have been seen before by the international scientific community.

Several ICR research projects at AACR this year focus on finding new, smarter treatments to tackle drug resistance – which is one of the most important current challenges facing cancer researchers. In many patients, drugs only work for a limited time until their cancer acquires new genetic mutations that allow it to evade treatment and find new ways to grow and spread.

Combination treatment
One potential way of solving the problem of resistance is to use different drugs in combination, or in sequence. One study to be presented at AACR, led by Professor Paul Workman, the ICR’s Deputy Chief Executive and Head of Cancer Therapeutics, will examine the potential of using Hsp90 inhibitors as part of combination treatment. The approach could target cancer cells in several different ways at once, reducing the likelihood that patients will become resistant.

A further presentation from research led by Professor Workman will describe the initial results of a study in colon cancer cells with specific genetic mutations, which are often resistant to standard therapy. The study examines the potential of using combination treatment in these patients.

Targeting cancer and tackling drug resistance
Some of the research presented by scientists from our Division of Breast Cancer Research highlights the need for drugs that take advantage of the concept of ‘synthetic lethality’, when cancer cells become overly reliant on a limited number of genes to stay healthy, and therefore vulnerable to drugs that target these genes.

Researchers from our Division of Molecular Pathology will present a study looking at genetic events within B-cells which appear to play a key role in the development of lymphomas.

Another study, led by Dr Andrew Reynolds, examines drug resistance in cancer that has spread from the colon to the liver. It looks in particular at how some cancers may become resistant to a class of drugs called VEGF inhibitors which block the growth of new blood vessels.

The genetic mechanisms that trigger cancer, or help tumours to become resistant to treatment, can be valuable targets for new therapies.

The tumour microenvironment
A presentation of research led by Professor Clare Isacke is on a different theme – the potential of targeting a type of cell called a fibroblast with treatments in women with breast cancer. Fibroblasts, although not cancerous themselves, are known to be recruited by several different cancer types and play an important part in tumour survival and growth.

The research links with a major theme of the ICR’s new Centre for Evolution and Cancer, which is interested in exploring ways of altering the selective pressures on tumours by targeting their microenvironment rather than directly attacking the cancer cells.

Several other projects will be presented by ICR researchers at the conference – many of which will ultimately be published in peer-reviewed academic journals.


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