Big Steps in Cancer Research


CANCER research part-funded by Hope for Guernsey may achieve its goal sooner than thought thanks to advances in technology. The Southampton University project, which uses blood samples taken from 11,000 Guernsey women, has made excellent progress, it was revealed last night during a presentation at St Pierre Park. Its ultimate aim to create a blood test to detect early onset of breast cancer could be achieved within 10 years, said Paul Townsend, professor of molecular cell biology at the university.

Now, the research is also being applied to other cancers and diseases.
‘There have been huge technological improvements. We are part of what’s called translational cancer research. This is basically when scientists from all around say, “I think this is good, have you ever thought about this?” We only have limited funding, but people are saying, “why don’t you work with us,” which has given us access to some of the most advanced technology around,’ said Mr Townsend.

‘Originally, we were finding 2,000 or 3,000 new proteins. Now we have increased that by five-fold and the difference that makes is significant and we now know what some of them are.’

Mr Townsend and his team are trying to establish a process by which specific biomarkers, or ‘cancer fingerprints’, can be identified. Such telltale signs in the blood would allow the disease to be diagnosed long before symptoms appear.

One of the biggest developments in the last two years has been the application of the research to other cancers, most notably prostate cancer. According to Mr Townsend, it is possible that the same process can be used for cardiac disease and macular degeneration.

Dr Samantha Larkin is leading research to identify biomarkers that can in turn identify aggressive prostate cancer. Approximately 10,000 men die of the disease in the UK every year. About three out of four people with the condition will be fine, but for a proportion of these men the type of cancer will be aggressive.

‘My project is to look at the difference between slow growing and fast growing cancers, so we can target those men with fast growing cancers and they can get the particular treatment they need. I’m looking for a prognostic marker, not a diagnostic one, although I prefer to call it an aggressive marker.’

Guernsey Press 8th October 2010

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