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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Newsletter

November 2013

newsletter
The latest edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Newsletter

July 2013

newsletter
The latest edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

 

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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Newsletter

March 2013

newsletter
The latest edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

 

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Come and visit us at the Cambridge Science Festival!

February 2013

newsletter

The Cambridge Science Festival is fast approaching! If you'd like to find out more about what we do, take on the challenge of the matrix maze, or take a look at some chromosomes close up, then do come and visit us!

This year we're teaming up with our colleagues in the CRUK Cambridge Institute to present a

whole section on cancer research, downstairs in the Biology Zone. We'll be there on Saturday 16th March and Sunday 17th March, and for full details of our location visit the festival website.

We hope to see you there!

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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Newsletter

October 2012

newsletter
The latest edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

For archive editions of the newsletter visit the Newsletter page.

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July 2012

newsletter
The latest edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

For archive editions of the newsletter visit the Newsletter page.

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We've been to the Cambridge Science Festival- have you?

March 2012

CSF logo

Last weekend saw the Research Centre setting up our exhibition area as part of the Biology Zone at the Cambridge Science Festival. This is the largest free science festival in the UK, and we were delighted to see so many people keen to have a go at splatting a cancer cell or trying to get through our invasion matrix maze.

We'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone that our visited us, and also to our staff and students who volunteered to help during the day. We hope to see you again next year!

people girl in maze chromosomes in hand

 

We'll have more details of what we got up to at the Cambridge Science Festival, and our other activities during National Science Week in the next newsletter.

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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Newsletter

March 2012

newsletter
The latest edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

For archive editions of the newsletter visit the Newsletter page.

 

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Researchers use sugar to halt gullet cancer in its tracks

January 2012

Scientists working at the Medical Research Council have identified changes in the patterns of sugar molecules which line pre-cancerous cells in the gullet, a condition called Barrett’s dysplasia, making it much easier to detect and remove these cells before they develop into oesophageal cancer. These findings have important implications for patients, and may help to monitor their condition and prevent the development of cancer.

Oesophageal cancer is the fifth biggest cause of cancer death in the UK, and the number of people diagnosed with this disease is also increasingly rapidly. Individuals with a pre-cancerous condition known as Barrett’s oesophagus are at an increased risk of developing oesophageal cancer, and need to be closely monitored to make sure that the disease is not progressing.

Dysplasia offers a stage at which cancer can be prevented by removing these cells. However correctly identifying these areas has proved to be problematic, as they can easily be missed during endoscopy and biopsy which only take samples from a small part of the oesophagus. This can result in false reassurance for patients in whom their dysplasia has been missed, and conversely those without dysplasia having to undergo further unnecessary treatments.

The team led by Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald, and based at the MRC Cancer Cell Unit in Cambridge, have discovered a new mechanism for identifying Barrett’s dysplasia cells by spraying on a fluorescent probe which sticks to sugars and lights up any abnormal areas during endoscopy. By analysing the genes controlling the amount of sugars present in human tissue samples taken from different stages on the pathway to cancer they found that there were different sugar molecules present on the surface of the pre-cancerous cells. These altered cells could then be identified by using sugar-binding wheat germ proteins attached to a fluorescent tag which glowed under a specific type of light. When the wheat germ protein was sprayed onto tissue samples it showed decreased binding in areas of dysplasia and these cells were clearly marked out as they glowed red compared with the green background.

Commenting on the findings which were published this week in the journal Nature Medicine, Rebecca Fitzgerald said,

The rise in cases of oesophageal cancer both in the UK and throughout the Western world means that it is increasingly important to find ways of detecting it as early as possible. Our work has many potential benefits for those with Barrett’s oesophagus who have an increased risk of developing oesophageal cancer. We have demonstrated that binding of a wheat germ protein, which is cheap and non-toxic, can identify differences in surface sugars on pre-cancerous cells. And when coupled with fluorescence imaging using an endoscopic camera, this technique offers a promising new way of finding and then treating patients with the highest risk of developing oesophageal cancer, at the earliest stage.”

Bird-Lieberman, E.L., et al Molecular imaging using fluorescent lectins permits rapid endoscopic identification of dysplasia in Barrett’s esophagus. Nature Medicine (2012) doi:10.1038/nm.2616

More information on the research undertaken by Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald.

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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Newsletter

October 2011

newsletter
The October 2011 edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

For archive editions of the newsletter visit the Newsletter page.

 

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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Newsletter

June 2011

newsletter
The June 2011 edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

For archive editions of the newsletter visit the Newsletter page.

 

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MRC Cancer Cell Unit Group Leader Rebecca Fitzgerald wins NHS Innovation Challenge Prize

June 2011

The winners of the Department of Health's first Innovation Challenge Prize have been announced today, and include MRC CCU Group Leader Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald. These awards recognise innovative projects which are likely to lead to improvements in patient care.

Rebecca was awarded a prize for the creation of the 'Cytosponge' device, which can be used to collect cells from the oesophagus of patients who are at risk of developing oesophageal cancer, to monitor their condition.

sponge

The device is both cheaper than the traditional means of monitoring patients via endoscopy, can be used in primary care settings such as a GP's surgery, and is also a much less unpleasant experience for patients.

Rebecca and her team intend to use the £50,000 prize money they have been awareed to further evaluate the effectiveness of the device, and to see if it could also be used in the diagnosis of other cancers.

Read the full press release on the DoH website.

Visit the NHS Innovation Challenge Prizes website.

Read the story on the BBC News Health website.

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New publication on key stem cell protein from Laskey group

April 2011

Researchers at the MRC Cancer Cell Unit have discovered that the presence of the protein geminin is essential for stem cells to maintain their ability to turn into more than one kind of other cell, increasing their capacity to be used to develop regenerative treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s or diabetes.

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There is currently a significant focus on how stem cells develop their ability to turn into a range of cells, and to try and replicate this characteristic in normal adult cells to create induced pluripotent stem or iPS cells. Commenting on the findings, lead researcher Dr Mike Gonzalez from the Laskey group said, “This works provides an important insight into the role of geminin in stem cells, and therefore also impacts on the development of iPS cells. These cells have vast potential, and we hope that by showing that proteins such as geminin are regulated differently in somatic and embryonic stem cells, we can begin to address the major barriers that affect the generation of iPS cells such as the cell cycle-related restrictions.”

Geminin escapes degradation in g1 of mouse pluripotent cells and mediates the expression of oct4, sox2, and nanog. Yang VS, Carter SA, Hyland SJ, Tachibana-Konwalski K, Laskey RA, Gonzalez MA. Current Biology 2011 Apr 26;21(8):692-9. 

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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Newsletter

February 2011

newsletter
The February 2011 edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

For archive editions of the newsletter visit the Newsletter page.

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Professor Ron Laskey awarded CBE

January 2011

We would like to congratulate our former Director, Professor Ron Laskey on the award of an Order of the British Empire- Commander in the Queen's New Years Honours List. Ron is recognised for services to science.

Ron Laskey
 
Professor Ron Laskey

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New insights into the origin of cancer may help to predict drug resistance

November 2010

New research carried out by Medical Research Council (MRC) scientists shows that cancer can develop in people born with one defective copy of the BRCA2 gene even when the second copy is still working effectively in cancer cells. By studying the development of pancreatic cancer, this discovery not only signals an entirely new approach to studying the origins of cancers associated with BRCA2, but could also help to improve treatment options for patients who are resistant to a group of drugs currently under development, known as PARP inhibitors. 

The body’s cells contain many ‘tumour suppressor’ genes whose job it is to prevent cancer. Each cell contains two copies of the tumour suppressor gene BRCA2 and this discovery challenges the long-held view among cancer researchers that both copies of this gene must be turned off in order for cancer to develop.

The team at the MRC Cancer Cell Unit, led by Professor Ashok Venkitaraman, has shown using studies in the laboratory and in patients that even one damaged copy of BRCA2 is enough to cause pancreatic cancer, and the second copy need not be damaged. By discounting the idea that both BRCA2 copies must be damaged for cancer to occur, this work could have wide-reaching implications for studying the origins of other cancers associated with the faulty gene.

Read more...

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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Newsletter

October 2010

newsletter
The October 2010 edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

For archive editions of the newsletter visit the Newsletter page.

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How a sponge and a piece of string could help prevent oesophageal cancer

September 2010

Researchers from the Medical Research Council (MRC) have developed a new test, called the ‘Cytosponge’, which can diagnose a disease known as Barrett’s oesophagus. By catching this pre-cancerous condition early it may be possible to prevent a type of cancer of the oesophagus, the sixth most common cause of death from cancer in the UK.

 The team, led by Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald at the MRC Cancer Cell Unit in Cambridge, has proven that the Cytosponge provides an accurate and less uncomfortable method of diagnosis. MRC researchers hope it could become the first screening option administered by nurses in a GP clinic.  The current method of diagnosis, endoscopy, normally requires attending hospital and sedation.

Read the full release on the MRC website.

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Research Puts Spotlight on Sun Risks for Older People

July 2010

A team of scientists from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cancer Cell Unit in Cambridge, working with others from Cambridge University, and Yale and Harvard in the US, have uncovered how exposure to sunlight increases the risk of developing the most common types of skin cancer.

Skin cancer is the commonest form of cancer in the UK, but it is also one of the most preventable. The biggest risk factor in the development of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. UV light causes mutations in the p53 gene in skin cells which is the first step to them becoming cancerous; and it is the size of the population of p53 mutant cells that is likely to determine the risk of developing cancer. Speaking at the UK Stem Cell Network annual conference in Nottingham today (Tuesday 13th July), MRC cancer researcher Dr Phil Jones reported how the mutation alters the behaviour of cells in sun exposed skin. The mutant cells significantly outgrow the surrounding normal cells in skin exposed to sunlight, but lose their growth advantage and remain at a constant number when sunlight exposure is blocked.

This work demonstrates that it is vital for younger people to take effective sun protection measures, as once you acquire mutant skin cells you cannot lose them. Importantly, the discovery of how the mutant cells grow also reveals that older people, with their longer life time of sun exposure and larger number of p53 mutant cells, can dramatically reduce the number of these pre-cancerous cells by using sun block. We therefore all have a lot to gain by covering up in the sun and using a high-protection sunscreen irrespective of age.

Commenting on these findings, Dr Jones said, “These results have important implications for cancer prevention strategies and stress that you are never too old to benefit from using sunscreen. Although this research deals with the most treatable form of the disease, skin cancer is still something we would all like to avoid. We hope that this work can contribute to reducing incidences of skin cancer in the future. “

View a PDF of this press release with full notes for editors here.

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DNA, Cells and Cancer- A Symposium to Honour Professor Ron Laskey

June 2010

We are delighted to announce that the MRC Cancer Cell Unit and University of Cambridge will be organising a symposium to both mark the retirement and celebrate the work of Professor Ron Laskey.

Ron is the Charles Darwin Professor of Animal Embryology at the University of Cambridge, and the former Honorary Director of the MRC Cancer Cell Unit. Much of Ron's career has been dedicated to understanding how cells control DNA synthesis, and he has been responsible for many breakthroughs in this field.

The symposium DNA, Cells and Cancer will be held on 27-28th September at the Babbage Lecture Theatre in Cambridge. Speakers will include John Gurdon, Bill Earnshaw, Richard Harland, Bruce Ponder, Steve Jackson and Ashok Venkitaraman. Full details of the programme and how to register can be found on the symposium microsite.

poster

Click on image to download poster

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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Newsletter

February 2010

newsletter
The February 2010 edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

For archive editions of the newsletter visit the Newsletter page.

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New Publication on the Behaviour of p53-Mutant Epidermal Progenitor Cells and Implications for Skin Cancer by Jones Group

December 2009

The Jones group have recently published a paper on the behaviour of epidermal skins cells following exposure to radiation.

UV B radiation induces clones of cells with mutations in the p53 tumour suppressor gene in the human epidermis. The Jones group have re-analysed large data sets which reported the fate of clones exposed to a course of UV B radiation to investigate how p53 mutations affect epidermal progenitor cell behavior.

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They concluded that pre-cancerous clones do not derive from long-lived, self-renewing mutant stem cells but rather from mutant progenitors with a random cell fate. It follows that ongoing, low-intensity UVB radiation will increase the number of pre-cancerous cells dramatically compared with sporadic, higher intensity exposure at the same cumulative dose. This may explain why non-melanoma skin cancer incidence depends more strongly on age than on radiation dosage.

Stochastic fate of p53-mutant epidermal progenitor cells is tilted toward proliferation by UV B during preneoplasia. Klein AM, Brash DE, Jones PH, Simons BD. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 2009 [Epub ahead of print]

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New Publication on the Potential Role of GANP in Cancer by Laskey group

14 December 2009

The Laskey group have recently published a paper on the role of the protein GANP in mRNA export and the potential implications for the development of cancers such as lymphomas. To read the web-story 'Nuclear protein could hold key to cancer progression' about this publication please visit the MRC news site.

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mRNA export from mammalian cell nuclei is dependent on GANP. Wickramasinghe VO, McMurtrie PIA, Mills AD, Takei Y, Penrhyn-Lowe S, Amagase Y, Main S, Marr J, Stewart M, Laskey RA. Current Biology 2010 [Epub ahead of print]

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MRC CCU Scientist at Cafe Scientifique Event

November 2009

MRC CCU group leader Dr Guillermo de la Cueva Mendez spoke about 'Exploiting Bacteria to Battle Cancer' as part of the Triple Helix Society's Cafe Scientifique series yesterday (Wednesday 11th November). Cafe Scientifiques are informal events where anyone with an interest in science can come along and hear about the latest research in a range of different fields.

Bacteria have long been used to make products of benefit to us. These range from foods such as yoghurt and cheese to medically important proteins such as insulin and antibodies. Guillermo spoke about harnessing some of the proteins that certain bacteria make to develop drugs to treat cancer, as well as how cancers arise in the first place.

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Click to enlarge poster

A lively Q&A session followed the talk which discussed issues such as the side effects caused by anti-cancer therapies and strategies for making drugs more selective in their activity.

The Cafe Scientifique takes place at the Larkin Studio in the ADC Theatre, Park Street, Cambridge, and further details of upcoming events will be posted on the Triple Helix Society website.

This event is sponsored by the Medical Research Council.

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New Publication on UBE2S and Cancer Drug Resistance by Venkitaraman Group

14th October

The Venkitaraman group have recently published a new paper on the role of the protein UBE2S in facilitating resistance to taxol and related anti-cancer drugs. To read the web-story 'New Insights into Cancer Drug Resistance Found' about this publication please visit the MRC news site.

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UBE2S elongates ubiquitin chains on APC/C substrates to promote mitotic exit. Garnett MJ, Mansfeld J, Godwin C, Matsusaka T, Wu J, Russell P, Pines J, Venkitaraman AR. Nature Cell Biology 2009 Oct 11. [Epub ahead of print]

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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Newsletter

October 2009

newsletter
The October edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

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Scientists Pinpoint Breast Cancer ‘Guard’ Gene

October 2009

Scientists based in the Hutchison/MRC Research Centre are close to discovering how normal breast cells become cancerous, according to research published in the journal Oncogene today (5 October).

chromosomes

Dr Paul Edwards of the University of Cambridge has identified a gene, NRG1 (neuregulin-1), which is damaged in over half of all breast cancers and fails to guard against normal cells becoming breast cancer cells.

Finding the genes involved in breast cancer development is essential to classify different types of the disease so that the most effective treatment is given for the specific type of breast cancer.

Dr Edwards said, “I believe NRG1 could be the most important tumour suppressor gene discovery in the last 20 years as it gives us vital information about a new mechanism that causes breast cancer. It could also be relevant to a wide range of other common cancers and could lead to new and effective treatments.”

See the Breast Cancer Campaign website for the full press release.

The NRG1 gene is frequently silenced by methylation in breast cancers and is a strong candidate for the 8p tumour suppressor gene. Chua YL, Ito Y, Pole JC, Newman S, Chin SF, Stein RC, Ellis IO, Caldas C, O'Hare MJ, Murrell A, Edwards PA. Oncogene. 2009 Oct 5. [Epub ahead of print]

 

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New Publication on DNA Damage Response by Venkitaraman Group

August 2009

The Venkitaraman group have recently published a new paper on the role of the heterochromatin protein HP1beta in reacting to double-stranded DNA breaks which provides fresh insight into the earliest events that trigger the DNA damage response in mammalian cells.

 

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Mobilization and recruitment of HP1: A bimodal response to DNA breakage. Ayoub N, Jeyasekharan AD, Venkitaraman AR. Cell Cycle. 2009 Sep 9;8(18). [Epub ahead of print]

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MRC CCU Group Leader Rebecca Fitzgerald Appears on BBC Radio 4's Case Notes

28th July

MRC CCU group leader Rebecca Fitzgerald appeared on the BBC Radio 4 medical programme Case Notes, on Tuesday 28th July.

The programme focused on the diagnosis and treatment of Barrett's oesophagus, a condition which is a major risk factor for the development of oesophageal cancer.

radio4 logo

Rates of oesophageal cancer have risen rapidly over the past two decades, and the UK has the highest incidences of this cancer in Europe. Rebecca spoke about both her research work and role as a clinician in treating and investigating the causes of Barrett's oesophagus and oesophageal cancer.

For full details of when the programme was broadcast and opportunities to 'listen again' please visit the BBC Radio 4 website.

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New Publication on BRCA2 from the Venkitaraman Group

July 2009

The Venkitaraman group have recently published a new paper on the regulation of RAD51 by BRCA2 during homologous recombination. To read the web-story 'Unravelling the Workings of BRCA2' about this publication please visit the MRC news site.

 

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The BRC repeats of human BRCA2 differentially regulate RAD51 binding on single- versus double-stranded DNA to stimulate strand exchange. Shivji MK, Mukund SR, Rajendra E, Chen S, Short JM, Savill J, Klenerman D, Venkitaraman AR. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. 2009 Jul 23. [Epub ahead of print]

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New Publication on Colorectal Cancer from the Coleman Group

July 2009

The Coleman group have recently published a new paper on the collection and isolation of colonocytes from stool samples for use in screening for colorectal cancer. They conclude that the isolation of colonocytes from stool-derived mucus is technically straightforward and can improve the performance of protein-based and/or nucleic acid–based approaches to colorectal cancer screening.
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Isolation of stool-derived mucus provides a high yield of colonocytes suitable for early detection of colorectal carcinoma. White V, Scarpini C, Barbosa-Morais NL, Ikelle E, Carter S, Laskey RA, Miller R, Coleman N. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention. 2009 18(7):2006-13.

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Ron Laskey Awarded Royal Society Royal Medal

13th July 2009

The MRC Cancer Cell Unit would like to congratulate our Joint Director Professor Ron Laskey on the receipt of a Royal Medal from the Royal Society, the UK’s independent academy for science

Only three Royal Medals are awarded annually, and acknowledge an outstanding contribution to the advancement of scientific knowledge.

ron laskey
 
Prof Ron Laskey

Professor Laskey's medal was awarded to him for his pivotal contributions to the understanding of the control of DNA replication and nuclear pore transport, which has led to a novel screening method for cancer diagnosis.

Professor Ashok Ventikaraman, Joint Director of the MRC CCU commented, "Ron Laskey’s work has over the years has provided a foundation for many topical and important fields in biomedical research, ranging from nuclear transfer and embryo cloning, to mammalian DNA replication. The way in which he has translated his fundamental research on DNA replication to the development of important new tools for the early diagnosis of human cancers is a lesson in how biological knowledge can be used to benefit human health. He has mentored and nurtured the careers of many younger colleagues. I am delighted that Ron's outstanding contributions to the biomedical sciences have been recognised by the Royal Society". This senitment is shared by all at the Unit.

For further details of other recipients of Royal Society medals and awards visit their website.

Related news stories from:

Medical Research Council

Cambridge University

Academy of Medical Sciences

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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Newsletter

June 2009

newsletter
The June edition of the Hutch newsletter is now available to read as a PDF here (or click on the image on the left).

 

If you missed February's issue, then you can catch up on our activities here.

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MRC Cancer Cell Unit Annual Lecture Success

March 2009

The MRC Cancer Cell Unit Annual Lecture took place on the 24th March. We were privileged to host Nobel Prize winner, Phillip A Sharp from the Institute of Integrative Cancer Research at MIT. Professor Sharp’s work on the discovery of RNA splicing won him the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1993, and laid the foundation for research into the complexities of gene expression and regulation in both normal and disease states.

lecture

His lecture for the MRC CCU was on ‘Gene Regulation by Small RNAs’. Professor Sharp described the role of microRNAs (miRNAs) in a number of cancers, outlining how their role in the regulation of the cell cycle might impact on the development of these diseases. The let-7 family of miRNAs has been implicated in non-small cell lung cancer, with high levels of expression associated with tumour progression and lower survival rates. In contrast down regulation of miRNAs 15 and 16 have been associated with prostate cancer.
Professor Sharp also discussed the cooperative nature of miRNA regulation, for example in B cell development, and the use of T cell activation as a model system to study miRNA regulatory functions.

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This incisive and informative lecture from one of the world’s leading RNA researchers drew a large crowd with the lecture theatre packed to capacity. Questions continued over tea and biscuits concluded one of the MRC CCU’s most successful annual lecture events.

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Hutchison/MRC Research Centre Researchers at the Cambridge Science Festival

March 2009

logo Saturday 14th March saw researchers from the Hutchison/MRC Research Centre take part in the annual Cambridge Science Festival.  The Science on Saturday events in the Biology Zone included hands-on DNA extractions, stem cell model-making and using worms to learn about brain function.
With the theme of this year’s festival being ‘Centuries of Science’, the Hutchison/MRC Research Centre team decided to look into the past, present and future of cancer biology. Visitors to our stand explored some of the tools currently used to identify cancerous cells such conventional cell staining and then were able to compare this with new techniques such as using MCM protein biomarkers, which may be adopted in the future. Our inanimate colleague Norman allowed visitors to see how cell samples are collected as well as the organs they are collected from.
visitor
ducks
Visitors to the stand were also able to experience all the fun of the fair with a hook the duck game and magnetic darts. Some of our floating ducks contained an errant cancer cell even though they all looked alike. Our second pond contained some ducks that were obviously different from the others, in the same way that screening for cancers is much easier to detect when you can pick out the abnormal cells, such as by using a biomarker.
group Our final activity was a magnetic darts game, adapted to demonstrate how some therapies designed to combat cancer can work. Players attempted to target a lung tumour using dart-o-therapy and realised how challenging this could be.
Overall our scientists thoroughly enjoyed keeping the thousands that passed through the biology zone entertained and hope that they may have increased their understanding of cancer biology too!


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A New 'Smear' Test to Prevent Anal Cancer

8 October 2008- Press Release

Scientists at the Medical Research Council (MRC) have found a new and improved technique to detect anal cancer that may cause the number of people dying from the disease to drop significantly.

The research, carried out at the MRC Cancer Cell Unit in Cambridge, explores using minichromosome maintenance proteins (MCMs) to detect pre-cancerous and cancerous cells in the anus. The study, funded by the MRC and Cancer Research UK, is published today in the American journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention.

MCMs have been used to find pre-cancerous and cancerous cells in other areas of the body more accurately and effectively but this is the first time they have been used to detect anal cancer.

Lead author of the study, Dr Nick Coleman, said: “This is welcome news for people who are at high risk of developing anal cancer. We have uncovered a more effective way to detect anal cancer in its early stages, meaning fewer people would have to undergo the rigours of radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment.
“Anal cancer is a difficult disease to detect and many cases are identified after it becomes too late for people to undergo simple surgery to remove it. We wanted to create a test which was easier to perform and had a high rate of accuracy. This study suggests that MCM testing fits the bill very well indeed.”

The study first involved screening anal tissue samples from different patients to pick up the biological differences between normal cells and cancer cells. The scientists found that normal tissue lacked MCMs whereas anal cancer and pre-cancer had an abundance of MCMs. The power of MCM testing was then shown in an independent group study of 235 anal smears from 144 subjects.

The test successfully identified 84% of the patients with anal pre-cancer, without producing a high rate of false alarms in people without disease.

Dr Coleman said: “This is a much better overall performance than existing methods of detecting anal disease, which either miss too many cases or show up as positive when no disease is actually there. MCM tests can also be read by a computer, which would avoid the risk of human error and be a cheaper option too.”
Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “MCMs are already showing promise as early markers to be used in screening for a number of cancers, so it is encouraging to see this research progressing.
“We must also continue to raise awareness of the disease, particularly among people in high risk groups such as gay and bisexual men so they can take action if they have symptoms.”

The incidence of anal cancer is estimated as high as 37 per 100,000 in gay men and about double if they are also HIV-positive.

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has lobbied for anal cancer screening and treatment programmes targeted at the higher risk gay community for many years.

He said: "For gay and bisexual men who are at risk of anal cancer, these tests are an important medical breakthrough. They will help save lives. With this reliable screening test, signs of anal cancer will be detected earlier, leading to speedier, more effective treatment."

See MRC News website for more information.

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To undertake world leading research into cancer cell biology that can be translated into clinical practice to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancers.