How can we improve cancer treatment?
In the 1980s, scientists discovered that the proteins transmitting signals to help our bodies heal could also cause cancer. This revolutionary news led to a new era of personalised cancer drugs.
Julian Downward’s and Mike Waterfield’s discoveries at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund laboratories showed genes involved in wound healing can mutate to cause the uncontrollable growth we see in cancer. Scientists realised that turning these genes off could stop cancer cells from growing.
Fourteen years later, breast-cancer drug Herceptin was launched. Herceptin binds to and inactivates a protein needed by tumours, inhibiting their growth, and is just one of a range of targeted cancer therapies based on this principle.
Illustration of Herceptin. Credit: RedAndr, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Some of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund’s work carries on in the Francis Crick Institute, where Julian still works.
Here, Ilaria Malanchi and Erik Sahai study how interactions between cancer cells and healthy cells affect tumour growth. Their work could lead to other improved cancer therapies.