Crick Group Leader in team shortlisted for £20m CRUK Grand Challenge Award

A multi-disciplinary team of scientists from John Hopkins University, the Francis Crick Institute, University of Pennsylvania, University of Cambridge and University of California, San Francisco has been shortlisted to the final stages of Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge - an ambitious series of £20m global grants tackling some of the toughest questions in cancer research.

Paola Scaffidi, Group Leader at the Crick, is one of six investigators in the shortlisted team, led by Rong Li at John Hopkins University. Their proposed project aims to investigate how chronic inflammation causes cancer.

Inflammation and cancer

Different chronic inflammatory diseases can put a person at higher risk of developing a range of cancers, including pancreatic, liver, gastric and bowel cancer. While scientists have been aware of the link between chronic inflammation and cancer for more than 100 years, it's still not clear exactly how, biologically, inflammation contributes to the onset of cancer.

Using a highly collaborative and multidisciplinary approach, researchers from the UK and US want to combine their expertise in cell biology, genetics, epidemiology and bioengineering, to build a much deeper understanding of how inflammation causes cancer. by team will scrutinize the progression from inflammatory bowel disease ­- a chronic illness that is on the rise, already affecting more than 5 million people worldwide - to bowel cancer, and explore how similar inflammatory conditions promote cancer development in other tissues.

Specifically, they will be answering questions such as: do inflamed tissues release any substances that can damage or alter the numbers or structures of chromosomes? How does chromosomal damage or change lead to the development of cancer? And can we prevent these detrimental effects of inflammation by boosting the cell's natural protective armour for its chromosomes?

Using cutting-edge research techniques and technologies, they hope to find potentially revolutionary new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat inflammation-associated cancers before they turn into aggressive disease.

Next steps

We hope to use the £30k seed-funding to enable more meetings between us as a team, to explore our complementary expertise more deeply and to deliver the best possible proposal.
Paola Scaffidi

The team will receive seed-funding of up to £30,000 to draft their full research proposal, and the winning proposal will be announced in autumn 2018.

The Grand Challenge award aims to revolutionise how we diagnose, prevent and treat cancer by providing international multi-disciplinary teams the freedom to try novel approaches, at scale, in the pursuit of life changing discoveries.

This is the second round of Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge award and last year four teams were awarded up to £20 million each, including a team who are building a 'Google Earth' of cancer, which Mariia Yuneva, Crick Group Leader, is a part of.

Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said: "Round two of Grand Challenge is proving to be incredibly inspiring and the ambitious applications reflect the quality of global researchers this initiative has attracted to beat cancer sooner. We're delighted with the teams we've shortlisted and look forward to hearing more about how they plan to tackle the toughest challenges in cancer research."

Dr Rick Klausner, chair of Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge advisory panel, said: "The challenges set for Grand Challenge have once again attracted some of the best researchers in the world. I'm looking forward to see how global collaboration could bring together diverse expertise, invigorate areas of research, and overcome barriers in ways that aren't happening at this point in time."

Paola Scaffidi, Group Leader at the Crick, said: "I am extremely excited that we have been shortlisted for Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge. The initial idea behind the collaboration came out of discussions and meetings at the Cancer Research UK Marshall Symposium on Cancer Evolution in 2017 - a nice example of the importance of face-to-face interaction! We hope to use the £30k seed-funding to enable more meetings between us as a team, to explore our complementary expertise more deeply and to deliver the best possible proposal."

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