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Meet our Worldwide Wonder - Dr Vincenzo Giambra

28th February 2020

Rare cancers are defined as those that occur in fewer than 6 out of every 100,000 people. But rare cancers are not as uncommon as the stats suggest.

While individual types of rare cancer affect only a small number of people, as a collective, rare cancers make up around 22% of all cancers diagnosed worldwide.

Many of these cancers lack any life-saving treatments. That’s why it’s vital that life-saving research is funded to develop new ways to tackle these cancers. Our research focusses on any type of cancer. And many of the discoveries our scientists make will benefit all cancers, even the rare ones.

This Rare Disease Day, we took a moment to catch up with Worldwide Cancer Research scientist, Dr Vincenzo Giambra, who we’re currently funding to look into new treatments for a rare type of blood cancer.

Can you tell us a little bit about your project?

We are studying a rare type of blood cancer called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL). This cancer affects both children and adults, but while current therapies successfully treat 4 out of 5 children, only 2 out of 5 adults see similar results.

Some patients can achieve disease-free status, only to develop a second cancer further down the line. This is thought to be because not all cells have the same properties and behave in the same manner.

Researchers have previously found that a gene called EZH2 is a kind of master regulator that can alter properties of blood cancer cells. Worldwide Cancer Research funding is helping us to further explore how EZH2 controls cancer cells to evade chemotherapy and how it helps cancer to come back even after it looks like the patient is cured. We think that EZH2 might also play a role in cancer more generally, so our research could potentially benefit a wide range of cancers.

Your project aims to uncover new knowledge that starts cancer cures. How important is it that people continue to support bold, discovery research?

In biology, this type of bold new research aims to understand fundamental processes of living systems. Specifically, in cancer biology, this means understanding how cancer develops, and how it grows and survives.

Although much progress has been made to develop new treatments that can help people live longer and even cure cancer patients, we still don’t know why some treatments fail and why they don’t work for all people. It’s only by starting to research these new ideas that we might find the answers.

Funding this type of research is an investment for the future. It’s what we have to do in order to gain the knowledge that is necessary for generating kinder, more effective treatments for cancer.

Where do you think your research could lead in the future?

I hope that what we learn through our project will inspire researchers to design more effective drugs for the treatment of T-ALL patients. Many of the treatments currently available are highly toxic to the patient, so we hope that we will one day help scientists to develop more targeted therapies that not only improve survival but also have less severe side effects.

Where are you based and what do you do when you hang up the lab coat for the weekend?

I was born in a small town in Sicily in South Italy. After studying and working across Italy, the US and Canada, I returned to South Italy and now reside in San Giovanni Rotondo.

I have two amazing kids, Martin (age 7) and Ruben (age 2), as well as two crazy dogs, Tatà and Floopy, and two cute cats, Clementino and Minù.

Besides running a small zoo, I also love to listen to music (mainly jazz), go hiking in the mountains and travel around the world.

Join other people just like you who have helped back bold ideas around the world to find new cures for cancer. Donate today and help support scientists like Vincenzo find new cancer cures.