News from Around the Globe

Research is constant.  Every day we are learning more about how to fight cancer in all of its forms.  Here are the latest news articles from some of the leading cancer organizations.  Check back often to stay up to date.

news from around the world

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Stronger Than Cancer has shared these news articles for information purposes only.  It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

 

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Artificial intelligence labs, immigration and NHS funding: what do the latest Government announcements mean for cancer?

4 days 4 hours ago

Science blog

It’s been a busy few weeks for the new Government, with several announcements from the Prime Minister featuring science and the NHS. This included £1.8 billion for the NHS to spend on buildings and kit, a new national artificial intelligence lab and a change to immigration rules for the ‘world’s best scientists’.

Here’s what the string of Government commitments could mean for cancer.

Repairs, rebuilds and kit – where is the money going?

First up, the Prime Minister announced £1.8 billion for the NHS in “capital spend”, meaning it will be used to upgrade facilities and equipment.

There’s been some debate about whether this can be called “new money”, as technically, some of it was money that hospitals already had, but couldn’t spend. But whether it’s new or not, it will make a big difference for the many hospitals that urgently need repairs.

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, said this is ‘just the start’ of the Government’s plans for improving the state of NHS buildings and kit. And it’s a promising sign for cancer: more capital funding could help improve the machines used to diagnose and monitor cancer, like CT scanners, and could also help make sure the NHS has the most up-to-date radiotherapy kit.

But while this will go some way to addressing the immense strain the NHS is under, it won’t fix NHS staffing shortages – and this is our top priority.

Future tech for a future NHS

Next, the Government turned their attention to a new £250 million national artificial intelligence (AI) laboratory.

AI covers technology that can perform tasks that otherwise would be done by humans. It could have a big role to play in healthcare in the future, for example by checking scans taken during breast screening, or predicting future demand in hospitals.

One of the reasons AI is so exciting is that it could be used to automate some of the more basic hospital tasks, giving NHS staff more time to spend with patients. And with growing NHS staff shortages, any technology that can help ease the strain is extremely welcome.

New AI tech is being developed all the time, but the NHS doesn’t have a clear idea of how it could be used in practice. That’s where the new National AI Laboratory comes in, testing if and how the new tech can be used in the NHS.

The Secretary of State also announced that up to 5 million people in the UK would get a ‘free personalised health report’, based on their DNA. It’s part of a research project exploring if it’s possible to identify people at higher risk of developing certain diseases – including cancer – and then help them to reduce their risk.

The idea and funding to read the DNA of 5 million healthy people was originally announced in December 2018, but the focus on preventing disease using genome analysis is new. It’s an exciting prospect, but it will be a while before it could benefit patients.

World-leading science needs global talent

Rounding off the week, the Prime Minister announced his intent to change immigration rules for the ‘world’s top scientists’ with plans to remove the current cap on the number allowed to enter each year on a ‘Tier 1’ visa, which is the visa for ‘exceptional’ scientists.

Brexit has created some uncertainty for the future of UK science, so this is a step in the right direction – but there’s still much more to do to make sure science is protected after the UK leaves the EU.

It’s vital that scientists at all career levels can work in the UK, and that researchers based in the UK can collaborate easily with their international counterparts. We’ll be working behind the scenes to influence Government and the EU in the next few months, so that we can continue to make progress in the global fight against cancer.

Good news on the Horizon 2020

And in the final announcement of the week, the Government recommitted to protecting scientists who currently have EU funding – for example, through the Horizon 2020 Programme – if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

In practice, this means the Government will step in to cover any funding that is lost because of a no-deal Brexit, and will evaluate any new research bids that are underway at the time, so the projects might get funding from the UK instead of the EU.

The announcement will be reassuring news for the scientists in the UK who rely on this funding – although many will hope it never comes to that. Many scientists and science funders have raised their concerns about what a no-deal Brexit could mean for science, something we blogged about last year.

And while this is a helpful short-term fix, it won’t be enough to safeguard UK science if we leave the EU without a deal.

What’s next for the NHS?

The last few weeks have seen some encouraging announcements from the new Government, but there’s much more to do. And as our chief executive writes, diagnosing cancer early should be at the top of their list.

Early diagnosis is something both the Government and the NHS already recognise as important – there’s an ambition to diagnose 3 in 4 patients at an early stage by 2028 in NHS England’s long term plan. And if this target is met, thousands more lives could be saved.

It’s a fantastic goal, but the unfortunate reality is that right now there aren’t enough NHS staff to make it happen.

That’s why ahead of the next month’s spending review, where the UK Government decide where to its spend money over the next year, we’re campaigning for a new cancer workforce plan to make sure the NHS has the staff it so desperately needs, now and in the future.

> Join us and ask the new Prime Minister to make beating cancer a priority.

Rose Gray is a policy manager at Cancer Research UK 

Read more

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Pancreatic cancer cells spread by 'educating' the tumor environment

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Science Snaps: solving the mystery of an oddly-shaped tumour

5 days 4 hours ago

Science blog

It had been puzzling scientists for decades. Looking at pancreatic tumour samples under the microscope, all they could see were a variety of unexplainable shapes.

A big problem was that the techniques available didn’t capture the whole tumour. Scientists usually study cancer samples by cutting them into very thin slices and taking pictures of the microscopic detail. This can give them a snapshot of the cancer, but it’s hard to build a complete picture.

To help solve this mystery, researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London developed an entirely new way to look at tumours.

“Nothing like it had existed before and we did see a big need for this,” says Dr Hendrik Messal, who led the project to not just look at cancer piece by piece, but also as an entire organ.

It took the team six years, but eventually they found a way.


Tumours can only grow in one of two ways: out of the duct (exophytic) or into the duct (endophytic). Credit: Dr Hendrik Messal.

A FLASH of inspiration

The trick was to make the entire tissue completely transparent while keeping the structure intact. They could then zoom in on particular parts of the tumour by staining them in different colours.

The new technique, which the team called FLASH, allows the researchers to take a closer look at the odd-shaped tumours found in the pancreas of mice. And what they found surprised them.

As part of the digestive system, the pancreas relies on a network of tubes called ducts that transport its digestive secretions to the small intestine. These types of tubes exist in many organs and are common areas for cancer to develop.

And it turns out, despite the dizzying array of shapes that were previously seen under the microscope, these tumours grow in only one of two ways: into the centre of the duct, or out of it. To figure out why these cancers grow in this way, the scientists teamed up with biophysicists to create sophisticated computer models of the tumours.

Geometry not biology

The computer simulations revealed the deciding factor in whether a tumour grows outwards or inwards wasn’t biology, but simple geometry. It all depended on how big the duct was.

When a duct was smaller than 20 micrometres across (about a fiftieth of a millimetre) the cancer would grow outwards. If it was larger, the tumour would grow inwards.


Image of a tumour, shown in red, growing into a pancreatic duct. An example of an “endophytic tumour”. Credit: Dr Hendrik Messal.

“As a biologist, you think it’s going to be something to do with the basic biology of the cancer, and of course it plays a role, but the fundamental, important factor that determines how the cancer develops is the tissue geometry,” says Messal.

They found this to be the case not only in pancreatic cancers in mice, but in other organs like the lungs and liver too, giving further support to their theory.

But while the team have begun to figure out what causes tumours to grow in a certain way, there are more questions to answer. The big one being – does it matter which way these tumours grow? They’ve begun to make some progress here too.

The team found that tumours that grow outwards in mice invade the surrounding tissue earlier and can more easily recruit cells that can help the cancer grow and spread to other parts of the body.

What’s next?

For Messal, this work shows the importance of biologists working with experts in other fields – pathologists, physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists – as they can provide valuable insights that biologists just can’t do alone.

The two teams are continuing to work together along with researchers from Imperial College London in a new project looking at breast cancer. They’ll study how the decisions a cancer stem cell makes will affect the how it grows and what shape it becomes.

And as for Messal, he’s now working in the Netherlands Cancer Institute on even more innovative ways to view cancer – not just in 3D, but live. Some processes are dynamic, and these techniques are needed so we can see what’s really happening.

On his experience of this work and his time at the Francis Crick Institute, Messal says: “I’m very much in favour of interdisciplinary science, it was one of the reasons that I wanted to work at an institute like the Crick. The collaboration opportunities these research institutes provide are key to this kind of research.”

Harry Jenkins is a research communications and marketing executive at Cancer Research UK 

Reference

Messal, H et al. (2019) Tissue curvature and apicobasal mechanical tension imbalance instruct cancer morphogenesis. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-0891-2

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