Our research is geared to understanding cancer, its aberrant behaviour and control, and to translate our discoveries for the benefit of cancer patients. We also study the pre-malignant state, so as to understand risk and how to prevent and treat cancer.
The Edinburgh CRUK Centre integrates the latest technologies and multi-disciplinary approaches, addressing fundamental questions and big challenges in cancer research.
We aim to provide an inspiring training environment for scientists and clinicians.
CANCER RESEARCH UK scientists have shown that a class of experimental drug treatments already in clinical trials could also help the body’s immune system to fight cancer, according to a study published today (Thursday) in the journal Cell.*
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh revealed that a protein called Focal Adhesion Kinase, or FAK – which is often overproduced in tumours - enables cancer cells to elude attacks by the immune system.
FAK usually sends signals to help healthy cells to grow and move around.
But the researchers discovered it plays a different role in cancer cells, changing the nature of the immune system so that it protects the cancer cells rather than destroying them.
They then showed that using an experimental FAK inhibitor** prevented this change in the immune system allowing the cancer cells to be treated as a threat.
This is the first time that FAK inhibitors have been shown to influence the immune system, and particularly whether or not it recognises and fights cancer. This provides an unexpected and exciting potential new use for existing FAK inhibitor drugs.
The research was carried out in mice with a form of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, but is likely to also apply to other cancers. The results showed that tumours completely disappeared when the mice were given FAK inhibitors.
This research was funded by Cancer Research UK, European Research Council, and the Medical Research Council.
Dr Alan Serrels, one of the lead authors, at the Edinburgh Cancer Research UK Centre at the University of Edinburgh, said: “FAK is hi-jacked by cancer cells to protect them from the immune system. This exciting research reveals that by blocking FAK, we’ve now found a promising new way to help the immune system recognise the cancer and fight it.
“The drug in this study is already in early stage clinical trials and could potentially be an excellent complement to existing immunotherapy treatments. Because it works within tumour cells rather than influencing the immune cells directly, it could offer a way to reduce the side effects of treatments that harness the power of the immune system against cancer.”
Nell Barrie, senior science communications manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “This promising research suggests these drugs may be able to help the immune system to destroy cancer cells.
“Research to maximise the power of the immune system is a really exciting area that Cancer Research UK scientists are exploring in detail. This particular approach hasn’t yet been tested in people, but there are plans to now find out how it could benefit patients alongside other immunotherapy treatments.”
Notes to editor:
* Serrels et al. Nuclear FAK controls chemokine transcription, Tregs and evasion of anti-tumor immunity. Cell (2015)
** Fak inhibitor provided by Verastem.
For media enquiries contact Stephanie McClellan in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 3469 5314 or, out of hours, on 07050 264 059.
About Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.
Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last forty years.
Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years within the next 20 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.
MRC Molecular Pathology Node: Edinburgh-St Andrews Consortium for Molecular Pathology, Informatics and Genome Sciences - £2m
To support molecular pathology, the MRC and EPSRC have supported six nodes led by the universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leicester, Manchester, Newcastle and Nottingham. Each node brings researchers, clinicians and industry together to develop molecular diagnostic tools, to enable stratification, in disease areas such as cancer, respiratory diseases, digestive disease, infections, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and lupus.
The six nodes are collaborating with 20 industrial partners, including leading diagnostic and instrumentation companies and innovative technology and data SMEs.
Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive at the MRC, said: “These new tools are critical for selecting the right treatment for the right patient. Being able to precisely target a treatment means maximum benefit for the patient – they receive a treatment that works for them and with fewer unpleasant side-effects. But it also delivers economic benefit because money and time are not wasted on ineffective treatments.”
The Edinburgh-St Andrews Consortium will bring molecular diagnostics into mainstream medicine by use of modern genome technologies and information across a range of diseases. The consortium will integrate state-of-the-art genomic and epigenomic methods for diagnosis of acutely ill children and will develop ‘liquid biopsies’ for managing cancer through analysis of circulating tumour DNA. The node provides funding for a Masters by Research in Molecular Pathology which will provide full support for student(s) to undertake a one year Masters Course.
The Edinburgh Cancer Research UK Centre acknowledges the hard work of our PhD students and the contributions they make towards our Centre, the IGMM and to the scientific community.
Cancer Research UK (CRUK) organises a yearly meeting in London where all the PhD students funded by the charity are invited.
The meeting provided a series of workshops and career advice to help them with their PhD and beyond. The day also hosted talks from prominent researchers that recently acquired fellowships from CRUK’s prestigious funding schemes.
Students had an opportunity to network and those in their 3rd year presented their work during a poster session judged by the invited speakers. This year’s winner was Georgios Kanellos from the Edinburgh Cancer Research UK Centre.
Georgios Kanellos said: “Cancer Research UK provides funding to the best researchers based in the charity’s own leading Institutes and Centres. So one thing that is guaranteed is science in its highest levels. I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to present my work in such a competitive environment and won the best poster prize award. This re-assured that my research is on the right track and gave a boost to my confidence for my future career in cancer research.”
Kanellos’s work focuses on a family of proteins that have been found to be essential in brain and neuronal development, mainly by being involved in regulating cell motility. These proteins appear to be deregulated in many cancers and have been linked with the invasive and metastatic capacity of cancer cells in a variety of tumours. George’s novel research shows that there is more to their functions than just controlling cell movement, showing that some of the proteins are also essential for the maintenance of tissue homeostasis and cancer cell survival.
“Cells that lack these proteins lose control over their actin cytoskeleton, which in turn affects nuclear integrity, promotes DNA damage and results in cell death.”
The research opens a new window towards understanding the importance of this protein family for tissue homeostasis, cell viability and maintenance in cancer.
Congratulations to Professor Mike Dixon - Edinburgh Cancer Research Centre clinical researcher and a world-leading expert in treating breast cancer, who has recently been awarded Health Champion at Edinburgh Local Hero Awards. Based at the Western General Hospital, Prof Dixon has worked as a specialist surgeon for more than two decades. He also leads a research team dedicated to understanding why the most common form of breast cancer becomes resistant to drugs, which helps give sufferers the best chance of survival possible. Click here to read Edinburgh Evening News article about the award ceremony. To see Prof Dixon's profile on the ECRC website click here, and to learn more about his recent life saving research click here.