Jo_Morris_Eva_Petermann_Tatjana Stankovic
From left to right: Dr Eva Petermann, Professor Joanna Morris and Professor Tatjana Stankovic

Three researchers from the University of Birmingham have been awarded more than £4 million by Cancer Research UK for their work to investigate new personalised cancer treatments.

Professor Tatjana Stankovic, Dr Eva Petermann and Professor Joanna Morris will each receive a share of the £4 million to take forward projects which could help identify new targeted treatments for blood, prostate, colorectal, breast and ovarian cancer.

Matt Kaiser, Head of Discovery Research at Cancer Research UK, said: “We’re delighted to be able to award grants to these three researchers who are all striving to push the boundaries of cancer treatment in the future by looking at weaknesses in how cancer cells repair their DNA.

“All three of these projects are excellent examples of how understanding fundamental processes that go wrong in cancer can be used to develop new ways of tackling these diseases.”

Professor Stankovic’s research aims to identify new targeted treatments for blood cancers including chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and multiple myeloma. Her project is looking at how to kill off cancer cells by stopping them from repairing their DNA.

Professor Stankovic said: “On behalf of my team, I’m thrilled to have received this award from Cancer Research UK,” she said. “Beyond blood cancer, treatments that target the DNA repair pathway – which is a common fault with cancer - could also help men with prostate cancer.”

Dr Petermann and her team hope to develop anti-cancer treatments that exploit the DNA damage induced by activated oncogenes. These are genes which normally tell cells to multiply and divide but, when over-activated, can cause permanent cell division leading to cancer.

“So far, our research has identified one of the potential drivers leading to DNA damage, but we need to find out more,” said Dr Petermann. “This grant will help us to gain a better understanding of the process so that we can identify new drug targets that can be investigated further.”

Professor Morris said she was delighted to have received funding from Cancer Research UK to continue her team’s work studying genetic mutations that can cause cancer.

Her team have been focusing on mutations in the BRCA1 gene, which if inherited can dramatically increase a person’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Changes in this gene mean that cells can no longer repair their DNA effectively, which can lead to the development of a number of cancers.

“We can treat people who have the BRCA1 mutation with drugs called PARP inhibitors,” said Professor Morris. “Although these drugs work well, they don’t work for everyone. By finding out more about the role of BRCA1 we hope to figure out what pathways are responsible for cancer development. This could lead to identifying new drug targets for BRCA1 associated cancers, especially those that have become resistant to treatment.”