Cancer Research at Bath (CRAB)

Newest developments in cancer research in and around Bath

Posts By: Alex Davies

13th CR@B symposium

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On the 27th of April 2016, CR@B held its 13th symposium at the University of Bath. A variety of academics, healthcare professionals and students gathered to enjoy talks from speakers from all ends of research.

The programme can be found here.

The first speaker of the evening was Dr Jenny Hatchard of the Department for Health at the University. Dr Hatchard is part of the Tobacco Control Research Group, who investigate and evaluate the impact of public health policy, investment and trade liberalisation with regard to health related to tobacco. Standardised plain packaging of tobacco, soon to become compulsory in the United Kingdom, is of great interest and debate in the aim of preventing people starting smoking. Of course, this is due to the undeniable link between smoking and cancer and the huge number of preventable deaths every year.

Professor Linda Bauld, of the University of Stirling, continued this theme of smoking and cancer. Speaking on behalf of Cancer Research UK, Professor Bauld detailed how it is not just lung cancer that is strongly linked to smoking; smokers are at great risk of developing many other cancers. Improving public perception of the risks involved in not just smoking, but also drinking alcohol and obesity, has been shown to increase people's likelihood of taking action to improve their lifestyle and support legislation to curb this risk.

The next speaker was Sophia Sarpaki, a PhD student under the supervision of Dr Sofia Pascu of the Department of Chemistry and Dr Ian Eggleston of the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. Her research involves the design and synthesis of imaging and inhibitory agents that are selective for hypoxic tissue, such as that found in tumours.

After a short break and poster session, another PhD student delivered a talk on their research. Lauren Heathcote, of the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford linked with the Centre for Pain Research at the University of Bath, is currently investigating a variety of influences on pain in children and adolescents, particularly those who have or have previously had cancer. It is known that different people experience pain differently, and it is also possible to predict how a person will respond to the same pain as another person, based on many criteria such as emotion. This research hopes to identify people who are likely to experience more pain and be able to address this appropriately.

The final speaker of the evening was Dr Sharath Gangadhara, whose research focusses on how the extracellular environment of cells in a tumour affects their response to different drugs. This research is of great interest in treatment of cancer because, the more detail known about a tumour, the greater the likelihood is of treating it successfully. Further research aims to modify this extracellular environment to improve the efficacy of anticancer agents.

Overall, this was another fantastic symposium and a great opportunity for people to network, learn more about each other's research and gain insight into areas of cancer prevention and treatment that were previously unknown.

 

Research into daffodils for new cancer treatments with Dr Lorenzo Caggiano

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Dr Lorenzo Caggiano is a Lecturer in Medicinal Chemistry within the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology and a Co-Chair of CR@B. His research focuses on synthesising small molecules for use in treatment of cancer.

Dr Caggiano is very interested in finding new methods to synthesise compounds, with the goal of making the same molecules found in nature in the lab. Natural products are a huge source of anticancer compounds, but they are typically very difficult to synthesise in a laboratory while plants and animals do so with ease using only what they have around them in the soil or the bottom of the sea. It is this puzzling situation that makes research into these compounds so interesting.

If compounds that are found in nature can be easily made in the lab, they can also be easily modified to make better drugs. This approach is taken by many researchers to improve on what nature has given us, because it is very unlikely that the first compound found is the best. Changes to the molecule can make a drug that is more selective, potent, and overall effective than those previously found.

Yellow daffodils - floriade canberra

Yellow daffodils - floriade canberra

One of Dr Caggiano's research areas is based on compounds found in daffodils (narcissus). These common flowers are known to kill other flowers near them using compounds they synthesise. Two of these compounds are pancratistatin and narciclasine, which have previously been very difficult to synthesise in the lab. Using novel methods, it is possible to synthesise analogous compounds to not only improve the therapeutic potential of the compounds but also to increase efficiency greatly.

It is hoped that this research will be of use in the development of new drugs for the treatment of cancer. The combination of inspiration from nature and scientific knowledge is key to creating new drugs with great potential applications. Dr Caggiano's research group is pushing this field forward, using simple and efficient methods to produce complex and potent new drugs.

 

12th CR@B symposium

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On the 11th of November 2015, CR@B held its 12th symposium at the University of Bath. As usual, it attracted a range of speakers from both within and outside of the university, as well as a large audience of people all interested in learning more about cancer research. The programme can be found here.

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12th CR@B Symposium

The first speaker, Professor Diana Eccles of the University of Southampton, gave a presentation on personalised medicine used in breast cancer. The goal of the research is to identify genetic differences that can increase susceptibility to developing breast cancer to give patients a more informed choice of treatment options.

Dr Dorothy Goddard and Dr Mark Beresford of the Royal United Hospital then gave a presentation on the use of genomics in cancer research. Genomics is the study of the genes that make us who we are, and one of the goals of this is to identify the genes that make people more susceptible to developing cancer. If we know which genes are more likely to be of concern, we can identify people who are at risk sooner and therefore act sooner if they do develop cancer. The Royal United Hospital in Bath is involved in the West of England Genomics Partnership, a group aiming to bring the research forward as part of the national 100,000 Genomes project.

Dr Michael Harris, GP and visiting lecturer at the University of Bath, spoke about the influence of primary care (GPs and pharmacists) on speed of diagnosis of cancer. It has been found that survival rates 1 year after diagnosis in the UK are lower than the European average. To find out more about why this is happening, the Örenäs Research Group was founded to explore the differences between healthcare systems across Europe. One of the ongoing studies by the group is into what GPs in each country would say to a patient with specific symptoms. If the differences between different primary care systems are identified, it may be possible to find out exactly what makes the 1 year survival of cancer different across Europe.

Cr@B Symposium 2

Dr Matthew Lloyd presenting his newest research

One of the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology's senior lecturers, Dr Matthew Lloyd, was next to give a presentation. He spoke about his research into new drugs for treatment of prostate cancer. The new drugs are identified using high-throughput screening, a process that allows a lot of different compounds to be tested for suitability as a drug. These drugs are targeting a protein called AMACR, which is known to be increased in prostate cancer. If a drug can be found to reduce the activity of AMACR, it may be possible to prevent progression of the cancer.

Building on this, Dr Lloyd's PhD student Guat Ling Lee spoke about her work in identifying which amino acids are most important to the function of the protein AMACR. Knowledge of this will further help in the development of treatments for prostate cancer.

Finally, Kunal Tewari gave a presentation on his work as a PhD student in the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. His research focusses on the production of new drugs based on 5-aminolaevulinic acid for use in photodynamic therapy.

Overall, this was another fantastic symposium and a great opportunity for staff and students at the university, as well as the wider network consisting of a huge variety of professionals, to learn more about current cancer research. The networking offered as part of this will continue to expand the research among CR@B members, with more fascinating presentations to come in future.

The 13th CR@B symposium will be held at the University of Bath on Wednesday 27th of April 2016. The event is free to attend and registration is now open.