The Newcastle University team pioneering research into the bowel cancer that killed Stephen Sutton has warmly welcomed plans to create a specialist children’s cancer research centre on the campus.
Stephen, who won the hearts and minds of the nation with his fundraising for teenage cancer support, had Lynch syndrome – an inherited genetic form of cancer. Sir John Burn’s team at the Institute of Genetic Medicine played a key role in 1993 in the discovery of the changes in the Mismatch Repair Genes which cause this syndrome.
Sir John, Professor of Clinical Genetics at Newcastle University and Consultant Clinical Geneticist for the Newcastle Hospitals, is now gearing up for a new international study that could transform the clinical management of cancer in people with a family history of the disease. His team has established that aspirin significantly reduces the risk of cancer in people with Lynch syndrome. Their new study, called CaPP3, will establish the optimum dose of aspirin to best treat patients.
Genetics key to cancer care
Sir John said although Lynch syndrome is extremely rare in young people, there are many areas of overlap in the work of his team and that of the planned Newcastle University Centre for Childhood Cancer, which will be created by the £5.5 million Future Fund campaign.
He said: “I’m really excited about the Future Fund and our expansion into children’s cancer research because there is such close correlation between that work and the research of the genetics team.
“Genetics is key to much of the progress that will be made in the coming years in cancer research as we can use our expertise to identify the underlying faulty genes that cause many cancers and can use genetic profiling to ascertain the best treatments for patients – young and old. The overall progress of medical science in Newcastle stands to benefit greatly from the new development.”
The Future Fund is a collaborative project between Newcastle University, the North of England Children’s Cancer Research charity and Newcastle Hospitals’ Great North Children’s Hospital. It aims to establish a state-of-the-art resource where researchers and clinicians can advance their work into childhood cancer to develop new treatments with fewer side effects.
Cancer prevention research
Complementing this planned research is an important element of the work of the Institute of Genetic Medicine at the Centre for Life which is focused on cancer prevention. The team is currently exploring how changing the immune system can help prevent cancer.
Masters student Ben Hartog is working on a study funded by the Barbour Foundation to investigate how aspirin’s long-term effect on the immune system can be manipulated to bring about benefits for adult patients, and once established, this could also be adapted for children.
Ben said: “We’d like to think we could replicate the success story of cervical cancer in terms of prevention. Girls now get the HPV vaccine to target pre-cancerous cells in the cervix and it is possible we can develop this concept to target specific areas of the immune system. Immunotherapy is a big emerging field in cancer research and we are right up in front leading the way.
“What we have learnt from analysing the results of an earlier study is that aspirin seems to play a big role in modulating some parts of the immune system. This is one of the first times this has been shown in humans.
“We tend to think of the immune system as mainly being involved in fighting infection but it actually plays just as important a role in preventing cancer. The problem, as with everything in life, is that it’s a fine line; both too much and too little of an immune response can cause cancer. Of course the other problem is that every patient responds differently. Nevertheless this clear change in the immune system, caused by aspirin and linked to a reduction in cancers is very exciting and proves that this area of cancer prevention research has much potential and promises yet more fascinating results.”
How to donate
- Via JustGiving
- Call 0191 208 7250
- Text NCFF01 and the amount of your donation to 70070.
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