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News digest – £100 million genome project, lifestyle and cancer, ‘missing link’ in cell division, and mor

Posted Dec 16 2012 12:00am
  • There was widespread media coverage of Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to our Cambridge Research Institute on Monday. The visit tied in with the announcement of a £100 million pound project to sequence the genomes of as many as 100,000 people with cancers and rare diseases to drive the discovery of new treatments and better tailor therapies. Here’s our news story and here’s the BBC’s take . Our Policy team also used the visit as an opportunity to sum up their thoughts on progress with the Government’s Life Sciences Strategy.
  • We were concerned by this BBC article about the scale of the budget cuts and job losses resulting in a loss of valuable expertise from cancer networks, which oversee and coordinate improvements across the patient care pathway. It’s important that the Government makes sure that changes to the cancer networks don’t slow down ongoing improvements in cancer care, which are crucial if we’re to achieve survival rates equal to the best performing countries.
  • The BBC also covered the story that Scotland is to start inviting women for cervical cancer screening from the age of 25 years (instead of 20), in line with the screening programme in England. The news is a positive step, as changes are based on solid evidence from the UK National Screening Committee.
  • On the subject of screening for cervical cancer, the media covered the broader changes announced by Jeremy Hunt at the Britain Against Cancer conference. Because more than 99 in 100 cases of cervical cancer are caused by an infection by HPV, the Department of Health are launching pilot projects. These projects will test samples for the virus first, and only women of have positive samples will be examined for abnormal cells. We look forward to hearing more details about the study. The Telegraph has this report .
  • For more news from the Britain Against Cancer conference, read this report from our Policy team.
  • The number of thyroid cancer cases has doubled since the 1990s, according to figures released on Friday. The reasons behind this sharp rise are not clear, but experts think it is partly due to better diagnosis rather than a large increase in the actual number of people developing this type of cancer. Read more about the story in this press release from the National Cancer Intelligence Network.
  • Speaking of rising numbers, we reported on a major study showing that cancer and other ‘non-communicable diseases‘ are fast becoming one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide. This is largely fuelled by unhealthy lifestyle choices like obesity, drinking alcohol and smoking. The BBC also covered this story .
  • We were happy to report another blow to the tobacco industry on Wednesday. Imperial Tobacco had challenged the ban on tobacco displays being introduced in Scotland, but their challenge was overthrown. It’s good to see policies to help discourage children from starting smoking and therefore protecting the future generation from tobacco-related diseases like lung cancer.
  • There were several headlines this week about early results from a clinical trial using genetically engineered immune cells to kick start people’s immune systems to destroy their leukaemia cells. It’s certainly a promising piece of research but it only included 12 patients and it’s too soon to say whether it could be used to treat all people with leukaemia or whether the treatment will be successful in the long term. Here’s the Independent’s coverage , and we wrote an in-depth blog article about the early-stage work from these researchers last year.
  • We spotted some promising results from a breast cancer study ( reported here by The Telegraph ). Doctors saw that adding a drug called pertuzumab (Perjeta) to standard care for women with HER2-positive breast cancer cut the number who died of their disease. After three years, out of every 100 women in the trial, 66 getting both drugs were still alive compared to 50 receiving the standard treatment alone. Adding pertuzamab to the women’s therapy also gave them more time before their breast cancer started growing again – an average of 18 months compared to 12 months without the experimental treatment.
  • There’s encouraging news for people with chronic myeloid leukaemia – better treatments (like imatinib ) have dramatically increased the number of people surviving the disease, according to new figures released this week . The development of this family of drugs was made possible by basic research finding out what genes drive the growth of the cancer cells, including work from our scientists .
  • In another step towards personalising cancer treatments, we press released research reporting how mistakes in a known breast cancer risk gene also increase the risk of a women’s breast cancer coming back or developing a second breast cancer. This type of information may help doctors decide the best course of treatment and frequency of screening in the future.
  • On Friday The Mail published this story about cholesterol-lowering statins being a potential treatment for people with drug resistant melanoma. This is an early study carried out with cells in a laboratory and mice, so more work is needed before we can say how effective it is as a treatment for people with cancer. But there are many studies underway, including some we’re funding , to find out potential benefits of statins so it’s certainly an interesting area of research.
  • Freezing your tumour like an ice lolly may seem a bit bizarre, but in fact the method of destroying tumours, called cryotherapy, is a possible alternative to surgery. The story covered in the Daily Mail this week is about a study carried out by a medical company, but scientists have been studying it for some time , and doctors already use cryotherapy to treat a number of different types of cancer and precancerous conditions.
  • The Naked Genetics podcast this week is all about cancer geneticslisten here .
  • A Cancer Research UK scientist has won the 2012 ‘I’m a scientist, get me out of here’ competition. Professor Robert Insall, from the Beatson Institute, beat other researchers to the title in a battle of who can provide the best answers to science questions submitted by school children around the country. In a lovely touch he plans to spend his winnings on converting an old microscope to take with him on school open days. Read the full story here .


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