Boost for cancer research in Leicestershire

A new approach to pain relief, investigation of a gene that triggers colorectal cancer and the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer are three research projects at the University of Leicester, which are to benefit from funding from the Leicestershire and Rutland charity Hope Against Cancer.

In its latest round of awards, which brings the number of university research fellowships supported by the charity to 16, HOPE selected three projects that would benefit from PhD Studentships.

Professor David Lambert, Division of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and Professor David Rowbotham, Department of Health Sciences, in collaboration with Drs Girolamo Calo and Remo Guerrini in Ferrara, Italy, are investigating the design and evaluation of new morphine-like analgesics with reduced side effects for long term use in cancer pain.

"Laboratory work has shown that this type of approach produces pain relief. We need to further refine the work to enable studies to be performed in patients. This will be a relatively long-term process (not within 3-5 years for example). However it offers a completely new approach to pain management. This particular project would not be possible without HOPE funding," Professor Rowbotham said.

Dr Catrin Pritchard, Department of Biochemistry, is researching one of the major contributing factors in the development of human cancers and particularly colorectal cancer - the mutation of the BRAF proto-oncogene.

She explained the significance of the funding to her work: "Through the Hope Foundation fellowship we aim to utilize a technique called microarray to generate a "gene signature" for BRAF-induced cancers.

"Essentially this will provide us with an overview of all the gene expression changes that accompany the development of cancer following BRAF mutation in the gut and also following treatment with BRAF inhibitors.

"These studies are imperative as they will allow us to identify new effector genes involved in development of colorectal cancers, to track the efficacy of BRAF inhibition, and to identify if any resistance to the BRAF inhibitors is occurring.

"We are extremely grateful to receive funding from organizations like Hope Against Cancer, and really appreciate all the hard work that many people do to raise funds for our research."

Dr Raffael Schaffrath, Department of Genetics, is analysing ovarian cancer at the molecular level to provide a means of improving the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of patients or those who are at risk of developing the disease.

As a result of the HOPE funding, all three projects will now be able to appoint a PhD student dedicated to their research area. Dr Schaffrath expressed what that will mean to his project:

"Firstly, the HOPE project provides the funds for a talented young scientist who will receive expert training in a range of modern molecular and cellular technologies. He or she will be exposed to an exciting area of international cancer research and engaged in close interactions with other cancer researchers at the University of Leicester.

"Secondly, through HOPE, our research group as a whole will further develop its activities from basic science to biomedically relevant cancer research. So, we have a great chance to contribute further to cancer research conducted at the Department of Genetics, which is superbly equipped for all aspects of cellular and molecular biology, including genomics/proteomics facilities and state-of-the-art tissue culture and microscopy suites.

"I consider the HOPE project to be an excellent catalyst to enhance the research standards of our own group and to improve the reputation of the Department of Genetics, University of Leicester."

This is the second round of PhD Studentships that Hope Against Cancer has funded. Lasting for three years, they enable PhD students to give more time to their research, as outgoing recipient of a Hope award, James Thorpe, explained: "In our group we are investigating whether chemicals from tea called polyphenols can prevent or delay prostate cancer.

"The funding that I have received from HOPE to maintain my research has allowed me to focus my efforts on cancer prevention. Prior to being funded, I was obliged to support my research by working 40 hours a week as a junior doctor. This limited the time available to concentrate on my research at a time when I was attempting to set up clinical trials.

"By being able to focus full time on cancer prevention experiments I have made much more progress than would otherwise have been possible. I have been able to extend the project into a third year. This will allow me to bring the work that I started to a conclusion and to write it up as a PhD. I am extremely grateful to HOPE for the support they gave to me personally and to cancer research in Leicestershire."

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