Crick scientist in a team shortlisted for CRUK Grand Challenge Award

25 April 2016

A multi-disciplinary team of scientists - including Dr Mariia Yuneva from the Francis Crick Institute (Mill Hill) - has been shortlisted along with eight other groups to the final stages of Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge, the world's most ambitious cancer research grants. If successful, the team will receive a grant of up to £20m to tackle one of the toughest questions in cancer research. 

The Grand Challenge awards are intended to catalyse a revolution in how we prevent, diagnose and treat cancer by bringing together the brightest minds from around the globe.

The team is led by Professor Josephine Bunch from the National Physical Laboratory and include researchers from the Crick, AstraZeneca, Cancer Research UK Glasgow Institute, LGC Ltd, the Institute of Cancer Research and Crick partner Imperial College London. Their Challenge is entitled "Charting unknown territory: mapping what we don't know about a tumour." They will attempt to make a 3D map of a tumour that will provide a model rather like Google Earth, enabling them to zoom in and out to see the fine detail. 

There is much more to a tumour than cancer cells. The micro-environment of tumours comprises an entire support system, including blood vessels to transport nutrients and other types of cells. The team aims to develop technology to visualise the rewiring of cellular and metabolic networks that occurs at different stages of tumour progression. This would provide an invaluable tool that could not only monitor the patient's disease, but also lead to new treatments.

Existing technologies can already reveal details of the tumour, but give little or no information about why cells are there, how they got there, and what they are doing. The team's plans for an holistic 3D view will create a detailed map going down to the level of the single cells in tumours, showing the integrated, organised population of cells in all its complexity.

Now the team has been shortlisted, they will receive seed-funding to draft their full research proposal, and the winning proposal will be announced in autumn 2016.

The Grand Challenge award aims to revolutionise how we diagnose, prevent and treat cancer by uniting teams of the best scientists around the world to come up with answers to crucial questions about how to save more lives from cancer.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "The calibre of applications for our Grand Challenge is evidence of the remarkable global talent working in cancer research. It's inspiring to see scientists of all disciplines and nations unite in the fight against the disease."