Worldwide Cancer Research Menu

The role of the eIF6 molecule in cancer

The DNA within our cells stores all the information needed to produce proteins, which carry out most of the processes occurring within our cells. The process which produces proteins is called translation, and some of the steps that control translation appear to be changed in cancer cells. The protein mTOR is involved in controlling protein production. Several new cancer treatments work to block, or stop, mTOR from working. Some cancer cells can be resistant to drugs that block mTOR, and that is probably because they use different molecules to control protein production. If scientists can identify these other molecules, they can try to find drugs that will stop these molecules from working in cancer cells.

Professor Biffo's lab has been studying a protein called eIF6, which is involved in controlling translation. In cancer cells, more eIF6 is found than in normal cells, and the protein plays a central role in tumour development and growth. They believe that increasing or decreasing the activity of eIF6 will allow them to control tumour development and growth. Using their new grant, they aim to find changes that affect other molecules through eIF6's role in translation and to see whether these molecules could be used to develop new drug treatments.

What goes wrong when a virus infection causes cancer?

Some cancers are caused by viruses, but only after something goes seriously wrong. For example, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infects 90% of the world population apparently causing little harm. In fact EBV is generally known as the herpes virus that causes kissing disease in adolescents. However EBV is associated with cancers such as lymphomas, carcinomas and childhood cancers. Infection with a virus triggers the cell's alarm system to try to fight the infection and defend the body from the virus. However some cancer-associated viruses, including EBV have evolved clever mechanisms to counteract these defences to establish a persistent infection. In some circumstances the disarmament of these defences increases the chance that infection leads to cancer. Dr Pegtel is using his Worldwide Cancer Research grant to investigate how EBV disarms the host's antiviral defence.

Investigating the role of SPARC in blood system cancers

Dr Colombo has been studying a protein called SPARC which is normally only produced by cells as part of the process of growing and healing to repair a wound. It is part of the extra-cellular matrix - the glue between cells which holds them together. The bone marrow, where all new blood cells come from, normally has almost no SPARC protein. However, Dr Colombo has discovered that, in leukaemia and pre-leukaemia blood disorders, there are high levels of SPARC in the bone marrow. Along with other research findings, this suggests that SPARC may be involved in the cause of some types of blood system cancers. With his grant from Worldwide Cancer Research he will investigate the role of SPARC in the normal and leukaemic bone marrow.

Improving vaccines against lymphoma

Vaccinations are widely used to protect us from serious diseases such a polio or diphtheria. They work by introducing an inactive version or small part of a foreign body such as a virus or bacteria. Once inside us the foreign body often triggers the production of antibodies and immune system cells which can kill or neutralise the potentially harmful invader. A type of immune system cell called a T cell are thought to be primarily required for protection against tumors. In order to develop vaccines that trigger this type of immune responses, research has to be done in animals like mice, as the experiments cannot be done on humans. However, although genetically mice and humans are quite similar, the immune systems are quite different, which is why some vaccines that look promising in mouse studies, fail to invoke an immune response in humans. Professor Münz is exploring a new strain of mouse which has components of a human immune system. He will be using his Worldwide Cancer Research grant to study this new animal model to try to find a way to get a better immune response, mainly from the T cells, against the cancer-causing Epstein Barr virus which can cause several human lymphomas and carcinomas.

How to improve gene therapy as a potential way to treat cancer patients

Gene therapy is a technique used for correcting defective genes responsible for diseases like cancer. A normal gene is inserted to replace the defective gene or sometimes the defective gene can be turned off. Although the idea of gene therapy holds great promise and has been successfully used to cure some diseases, it is still under research to make sure it will be safe and effective. The technique itself can introduce dangerous gene alterations or there is a chance that each time the treated cells divide, new alterations can occur. Professor Alexander is investigating the relationship between how often a cell divides and the number of genetic alterations that occur. He hopes that his research could help improve the safety of gene therapy for use in the future.