A light microscope (photo: Jan Chlebik for the ICR 2011)
This week, people of all ages across the UK have been taking part in British Science Week 2016. Co-ordinated by the British Science Association, the 10-day programme includes a range of events and activities organised by intuitions, companies and schools to get people involved in science, technology, engineering and maths.
Two senior researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London took the opportunity to explain how their crucial research into cancer might evolve over the next decade. While their opinions cannot predict the future, their words shine a light on the challenges and opportunities their research teams are facing and what will drive their work over the coming 10 years.
Dr Marco Gerlinger (photo: John Angerson)
Cancer evolution is the central mechanism driving cancer progression and the development of drug resistance. My lab is investigating the genetic and molecular mechanisms that enable this ongoing adaptation that allows cancer to sidestep current treatments.
For example, we are using the latest genetic technologies to track cancer evolution in great detail. This gives us insights into the enormous plasticity of evolving cancers and shows that they are innovating relentlessly.
Seeing these incredibly complex processes in action is truly awe-inspiring. And all too often, we’re still one step behind the cancer, which pulls an unexpected trick.
But over the next ten years, I am confident that we will get much better at predicting the next evolutionary move of individual cancers. We can then pre-empt future evolutionary moves and block these escape routes with tailor-made drugs.
We are also studying how the immune system, unleashed through the latest immunotherapies, can beat the evolutionary adaptability of cancers and cure some of them. We are using these data to develop novel approaches to steer evolution into dead ends and eventually – hopefully – to stop cancer evolution entirely. With powerful new genetic and immunotherapy technologies and trials on the horizon, the future looks bright for defeating cancer.
Dr Paul Huang leads the Protein Networks team in the Cancer Biology division at the ICR. Dr Huang uses systems biology techniques to study abnormal cancer signalling networks and drug resistance.
Dr Paul Huang (photo: Jon Enoch)
My team’s research focuses on understanding how cancer cells rewire their cellular signalling machinery to develop resistance to current and next-generation drugs.
The main obstacle in this field is our inability to predict accurately which of the broad spectrum of diverse and distinct mechanisms of resistance to target in patients.
Over the next 10 years, we envisage there will be advances in individualised tumour profiling and creative computational analysis of big cancer datasets. This will enable us to generate a comprehensive molecular portrait of the cellular machineries that tumour cells exploit to evade cancer therapy.
The ultimate goal is to predict drug resistance mechanisms before they occur.
This will require teams of multi-disciplinary scientists — biologists, computational scientists, engineers, chemists and so on — working together to identify evolving resistance signatures in patients, and develop new therapies and repurpose existing drugs to overcome drug resistance.
Read about how the ICR has been driving scientific discoveries on cancer and its treatment for more than 100 years.
Learn more about British Science Week 2016 at the British Science Association website.
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