Research staff at the Wolfson Wohl Building

7 ways UofG is changing the world of cancer research

At Glasgow, we are taking strides every day in the global effort to tackle and eradicate cancer – something four out of every ten people worldwide will now experience during their lifetime. We’re continuing to pioneer trials and treatments that contribute to the worldwide fight against cancer and some of our 51 research groups have made recent progress in several important areas:
1 We’re sharing our game-changing pancreatic cancer research
Pancreatic cancer is often diagnosed very late and is one of the deadliest forms of common cancer – only around 9% of patients survive five years after their diagnosis. But now, a project aiming to make desperately needed new immunotherapy treatments a reality for some of these patients will run at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute for the next three years, led by a UofG academic. “Hopefully, our results will some day lead to new immunotherapies for people with pancreatic cancer,” says Dr Seth Coffelt, Senior Research Fellow at the School of Cancer Sciences. “These could give options to patients who currently have none available to them, if they have pancreatic cancer that has already spread.” The treatments have been transformative for some types of cancer and the hope is that with new techniques, they could also have potential for those with pancreatic cancer.
2 We’re part of the international effort to pioneer new treatments
A global team of researchers, led by Glasgow cancer scientists, will create a blueprint to improve access to the most innovative diagnostic tests and personalised cancer care worldwide. The new commission will advocate for the widespread adoption of molecular testing – precision oncology – in routine cancer care, and analyse the challenges that impede the collection of genomic data. Professor Andrew Biankin, Regius Chair of Surgery and director of the International Cancer Genome Consortium, says: “We have made great progress in defining the genomic aberrations that cause and drive cancer, yet these great advances are only reaching a small proportion of people, even in developed countries. The time has come to incorporate broad genomic testing in routine cancer care.”
3 We’re confronting the legacy of asbestos
The word ‘asbestos’ may bring to mind our long-forgotten industrial past – but thousands across Scotland are still living with its legacy in the present. Though exposure to the material may have happened decades ago, people continue to be diagnosed with mesothelioma once it eventually develops. Now, £2.1m funding has been awarded to a team of Glasgow and Cambridge academics to help answer the question of what happens in the years between initial exposure to asbestos and diagnosis. “Mesothelioma is difficult to treat,” says Professor of Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma Daniel Murphy, “and outcomes are usually poor for those diagnosed. This new programme, called REMIT, will help form a comprehensive strategy for early detection, risk stratification and more effective treatments for mesothelioma patients.”

"We are delivering new strategies for early detection of mesothelioma and a deeper understanding of the biological basis of the disease, which should inform new treatment options." – Professor Daniel Murphy

4 We’re trialling new and impressive radiotherapy
Also linked to the fight against mesothelioma, a significant increase in life expectancy was recorded in patients with the condition after trials intended to help manage pain levels found that survival rates increased as well. The SYSTEMS-2 trial showed a link between giving a higher dose of radiotherapy to mesothelioma patients and a small improvement in better pain control, but also a notable increase in life expectancy. Professor Anthony Chalmers, Chair of Clinical Oncology, said, “SYSTEMS-2 is the first clinical trial to test whether increasing the dose of radiotherapy can improve outcomes for patients with mesothelioma. Although we are still in the process of following up these patients and analysing the results, we are very excited to see some early evidence that patients receiving the higher radiotherapy dose might benefit in terms of their life expectancy.”
5 We’re working at the cutting edge of leukaemia research
Two new projects led by UofG will engineer novel science and research tools that aim to better understand and predict leukaemia and develop drugs for improved healthcare. At the moment, there are challenges in terms of early diagnosis of leukaemia, and therefore, effective treatments. The projects will develop engineered models of leukaemia in the bone marrow, developing new technologies to follow disease progression, and also look at how cells from other cancers can migrate to the bone marrow and lie dormant for years. Professor Manuel Salmero-Sanchez, Chair of Biomedical Engineering, said: “As we live for longer, our blood stem cells change in order to allow them to continue to grow. Currently, we can’t predict if these age-related changes are a concern or not and so we miss the opportunity to advise on lifestyle changes and, indeed, to treat pre-disease/early disease."

"By developing new materials that mimic the bone marrow, where leukaemia develops, and using human cells within these models, we can focus on these earliest stages of the disease to provide new understanding, new screening methods and new drugs. – Professor Manuel Salmero-Sanchez

6 We’re securing major funding for experimental treatments
Over £2m of funding is earmarked for the Glasgow Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre, (ECMC) based at the University, which develops and delivers clinical trials of novel treatments for cancer patients. It’s part of £4m promised to two Scottish cancer centres, one of which looks specifically at types of cancers affecting children. The funding will mean that new treatments can be developed that include immunotherapies and cell therapies. Professor Jeff Evans, ECMC Lead, said, “I am delighted that we have secured this funding which will allow our patients to have access to clinical trials of the very latest developments in new, experimental treatments for cancer.
7 We’re winning awards for our innovation
A potentially transformative bowel cancer screening tool has received the Innovative Collaboration Award at Scotland’s Life Sciences Awards 2023. The tool can predict which patients with pre-cancerous polyps (growths) in their bowels will go on to develop further polyps. Called the INCISE project, it is led by UofG and Professor of Translational Cancer Pathology Joanne Edwards, project lead, said that the award “recognises the bringing together of UofG scientists with the NHS and industry partners to improve polyp surveillance in Scotland,” and that she was delighted that the efforts of her team to improve bowel screening was being acknowledged.

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