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Scientists are to investigate cancers that are resistant to treatment

Scientists at the University of Birmingham have been awarded nearly £3 million from Cancer Research UK to investigate cancers that are resistant to treatment.

Dr Clare Davies and Dr Daniel Tennant from the University of Birmingham were commended by the charity for submitting ambitious bids based on ‘exciting’ findings from their existing research projects.

Cancer Research UK said both research programmes, being run over six years, could eventually help improve the outcome of patients with some of the most difficult to treat cancers such as brain, pancreatic and oesophageal.

Dr Clare Davies, senior research fellow at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Cancer & Genomic Sciences, said her team had identified a protein linked to poor survival in breast cancer patients.

The protein, called PRMT5, is found in high levels in many types of cancer. Dr Davies’s research has shown that the protein is a key player in helping breast cancer cells grow, survive and become resistant to drugs.

“Firstly we want to find out how PRMT5 contributes to breast cancer growth and drug resistance,” said Dr Davies. “That will help us identify new ways to target cancer with drugs.

“Secondly, we hope to identify which cancer patients will respond favorably to treatments that target PRMT5, thereby limiting the exposure of patients to drugs that may not work for their particular type of cancer.

“We’re incredibly excited that this research is being funded by Cancer Research UK, as we will be able to answer complex scientific questions in a level of detail that we hope will make a real difference to the lives of cancer patients in the very near future.”

Dr Tennant’s research is looking at targeting drug resistant cells in one of the deadliest forms of breast cancer called triple negative breast cancer. His research is also investigating the same type of drug resistant cells in an aggressive type of brain tumour called glioblastoma.

“We know that certain cancer cells don’t get enough oxygen and it is these that are most resistant to treatment,” said Dr Tennant, senior lecturer at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research.

“We’ve developed a new technique to identify molecules that the cancer cells in low oxygen rely on to survive. We think that targeting these molecules could be a good way to kill treatment-resistant cells.

“Brain tumours are notoriously difficult to treat and we urgently need new approaches to tackling them. Cancer Research UK has made transforming brain tumour research a priority to help more people with the disease, which has devastatingly low survival rates.”

Matt Kaiser, head of discovery research at Cancer Research UK, said: “Cancer cells that don’t respond to therapies present a big barrier to successful treatment for patients.

“We hope that these exciting projects will boost our understanding of the signals in cells that many cancers rely on for growth and survival. This will be key to developing much more successful, targeted treatments for patients in future.”

For more information please contact Emma McKinney, Communications Manager (Health Sciences), University of Birmingham, on +44 (0)121 414 6681 or contact the Press Office out of hours on +44 (0)7789 921165.

  • Applications are judged on the basis of scientific excellence, innovation and importance to furthering our understanding of cancer or potential benefits to cancer patients.
  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • About Cancer Research UK:
  1. Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
  2. Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
  3. Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on vital donations from the public.
  4. Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.
  5. Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that by 2034, 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years.
  6. Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  7. Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.
  8. For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, call 0300 123 1022 or click here