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2020 NIHR ACF PES Leicester Platform Science and Bioinformatics



2020 NIHR Academic Clinical Fellowship in Priority Research Themes

HEE Local Office: East Midlands
Medical School: University of Leicester
Research Theme: Platform Science and Bioinformatics
Specialty Options: General Surgery or Medical Oncology or Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery

Plain English Summary

Despite significant advances being made in the treatment of patients with cancer, more needs to be done to improve outcomes. In oncology, the term precision medicine means giving the right treatment to the right patient at the right time. Although this sounds simplistic, in practice, it is actually hugely complex. In this theme, projects are offered to address this aspiration using cutting edge technologies that are available at the University of Leicester. Professor Shaw's group has spent more than 20 years investigating the use of the 'liquid biopsy' that can detect the DNA shed by tumour cells (ctDNA) into the blood of patients with a number of different cancers. Repeat blood tests can be taken for patients throughout their treatments to monitor circulating tumour derived DNA or ctDNA to detect disease progression as soon as possible, understand why some tumours eventually become resistant to treatments thereby personalising individual patient's treatment. We are also investing other markers in the blood as tools for detection and monitoring cancer including platelets and vesicles including their cargo of DNA RNA and proteins.

Each year millions of dollars are spent developing new drugs. Historically this process has involved taking a drug of interest, testing it on cancer cells in the laboratory and then animal models with cancer. Promising drugs then enter clinical trials. This process is expensive, both financially and in terms of time. Moreover, we now know that, based on results from sequencing the genome, a tumour type such as breast cancer comprises many different types of cancer cells, all of which have their own genetic signatures. Some of these cancer cells will respond to the new drugs but others will not. Professor Pritchard has developed a novel way of growing a tumour outside the body long enough to test new drugs on it. This means that we can effectively carry out an experiment using patient cancer tissue (biopsy) and find the most effective drug to kill the cancer cells on a patient-by-patient basis. This allows treatment to be individualised to a particular patient’s tumour. This technology is being developed further in Dr Royle’s laboratory in patients with soft tissue sarcoma. We know that the number of active treatments in this tumour is very small – by working with a commercial company, it potentially opens up the treatment opportunities available.  

Within the Leicester Cancer Centre scientists work alongside clinicians to ensure we deliver the best lab to bedside cancer research. This model provides a rich environment for bright and up and coming academic doctors to flourish. The team has an excellent track record in supporting ACF trainees providing them with grant writing and funding opportunities, excellent laboratory skills training and opportunities for manuscript writing. All this is done while ensuring that trainees continue to develop their clinical skills with protected research time. To date we have successfully provided this excellent support network for both medical and surgical focused trainees.