Professor Ian Tomlinson, Director of the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences, has been awarded a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award in Science of £2 million for research into different types of isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH) mutation.
A mutation is a change that occurs in our DNA sequence, either due to mistakes when the DNA is copied or as the result of environmental factors such as UV light and cigarette smoke. Often cells can recognise any potentially mutation-causing damage and repair it before it becomes a fixed mutation.
Commenting on the new funding, Professor Tomlinson said: "Cancers mostly develop when cells in the body acquire changes to their DNA (mutations). IDH mutations cause many cancers, of which some, including brain tumours and leukaemia, have very poor survival rates.
"Different types of cancer have different types of IDH mutation and we wish to find out why. IDH mutations produce a cancer-causing substance called D2HG, but different IDH mutations are more efficient at this process than others, and the most commonly found mutations do not necessarily make the most D2HG.
"We shall relate D2HG levels to specific IDH mutations, finding out which mutations and D2HG levels most favour tumour growth in different parts of the body. We shall also test whether too much D2HG does not promote tumour growth, but actually stops tumours from growing."
Professor Tomlinson hopes that this work may lead to new anti-cancer therapies based on increasing D2HG to a level that is toxic to cancer cells.