Ricky Sharma appointed as Professor of Radiation Oncology at UCL

Ricky Sharma, Group Leader at the CRUK/MRC Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology and the Department of Oncology, has been appointed to the position of Professor and Chair of Radiation Oncology at University College London. He will start in his new post in July.

During his time at the University of Oxford, Ricky has built up a translational group of scientists and clinicians studying DNA damage and repair, drug-radiotherapy interactions and novel forms of imaging for radiotherapy planning. Ricky played an important role in the clinical imaging components of the CRUK/EPSRC Cancer Imaging Centre at Oxford, and with his group has published papers in journals as diverse as Nature Communications, Scientific Reports, The Journal of Clinical Oncology and The Lancet Oncology. They have secured extensive funding from a variety of charities, funding bodies and commercial partners, including Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and the Bowel Disease Research Foundation. Of particular note, Ricky chaired the Liver Multidisciplinary Team at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and built up a patient referral base from the whole of the UK for liver-directed therapies. He currently leads two international, multi-centre randomised controlled clinical trials, as well as several early-phase clinical trials of new radiotherapy treatment approaches and novel forms of imaging. He also developed and chaired the Teaching Committee to increase the amount of cancer teaching offered to medical students in Oxford.

When asked about this next career step, Ricky said: “I will be very sad to leave Oxford. It has been a wonderful environment to develop an academic career and to make close friends. I strongly recommend it to anyone thinking of joining the university.”

“In radiotherapy we are now moving to extremely targeted treatments. Protons, stereotactic radiotherapy and molecular radiotherapy all offer exciting new opportunities. What underpins this precision is our ability to image the cancer and to understand the biology of the cancer target.”

“My aim in my new post is to link up UCL’s expertise in cancer biology with UCLH’s precision radiotherapy, so we can develop new treatments with better cure rates and fewer side-effects.”

The UK government has committed £250 million to develop high energy proton beam therapy services at UCLH and Manchester, with the first UCLH patient due to be treated in 2019.

Scientists double number of known genetic risk factors for endometrial cancer

An international collaboration of researchers, including Oxford Centre members Dr Claire Palles, Prof Ian Tomlinson, and Dr David Church,  has identified five new gene regions that increase a woman’s risk of developing endometrial cancer. Endometrial cancer is one of the most common cancers to affect women, taking the number of known gene regions associated with the disease to nine.

Endometrial cancer affects the lining of the uterus. It is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in UK women, with around 9,000 new cases being diagnosed each year.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge, Oxford University and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane studied the DNA of over 7,000 women with endometrial cancer and 37,000 women without cancer to identify genetic variants that affected a woman’s risk of developing the disease. The results have been published in the journal Nature Genetics.

Dr Deborah Thompson from the Department of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Cambridge said: “Our findings help us to paint a clearer picture of the genetic causes of endometrial cancer in women, particularly where there no strong family history of cancer. Prior to this study, we only knew of four regions of the genome in which a common genetic variant increases a woman’s risk of endometrial cancer.

“In this study we have identified another five regions, bringing the total to nine. This finding doubles the number of known risk regions, and therefore makes an important contribution to our knowledge of the genetic drivers of endometrial cancer.

“Interestingly, several of the gene regions we identified in the study were already known to contribute to the risk of other common cancers such as ovarian and prostate.

“Although each individual variant only increases risk by around 10-15%, their real value will be in looking at the total number of such variants inherited by a woman, together with her other risk factors, in order to identify those women at higher risk of endometrial cancer so that they can be regularly checked and be alert to the early signs and symptoms of the disease.”

The study also looked at how the identified gene regions might be increasing the risk of cancer, and these findings have implications for the future treatment of endometrial cancer patients.

“As we develop a more comprehensive view of the genetic risk factors for endometrial cancer, we can start to work out which genes could potentially be targeted with new treatments down the track,” said Associate Professor Amanda Spurdle from QIMR Berghofer.

“In particular, we can start looking into whether there are drugs that are already approved and available for use that can be used to target those genes.”

The study was an international collaboration involving researchers from Australia, the United Kingdom, German, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, the United States and China. The UK part of the study received funding from Cancer Research UK.

Dr Emma Smith, Cancer Research UK’s science information manager, said: “The discovery of genetic changes that affect women’s risk of developing endometrial – or womb – cancer could help doctors identify women at higher risk, who could benefit from being more closely monitored for signs of the disease.

“It might also provide clues into the faulty molecules that play an important role in womb cancer, leading to potential new treatments. More than a third of womb cancer cases in the UK each year could be prevented, and staying a healthy weight and keeping active are both great ways for women to reduce the risk.”

Cheng, THT et al. Five endometrial cancer risk loci identified through genome-wide association analysis. Nature Genetics; 2 May 2016; DOI: 10.1038/ng.3562


Oxford scientists lead the way in cutting-edge cancer research

Oxford scientists will play a key role in ground-breaking research into new radiotherapy and immunotherapy treatments for cancer patients following a multi-million pound investment.

Researchers from the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre will be collaborating with scientists across the UK, following the announcement today of the charity’s Centres’ Network Accelerator Awards. The awards provide infrastructure support, facilitate collaboration, and boost ‘bench to bedside’ science.

Designed to inspire new approaches to beating cancer, the awards will invest around £16 million UK-wide over the next five years.

More than £4 million of that money will be invested in a study looking into innovative new radiotherapy technologies and the best ways to use them, helping to discover which patients will benefit the most from these pioneering methods.

Researchers in Oxford will join forces with scientists from Leeds, Manchester and London, working together to find out how best to use new radiotherapy machines, including stereotactic ablative radiotherapy, image-guided radiotherapy, and proton beam therapy.

The research will include patients with hard to treat oesophageal and lung cancers, for which survival remains low.

A further £3.9 million will be invested into developing cutting-edge research into innovative immunotherapies, which work by ‘waking up’ the patient’s immune system and harnessing its power to kill cancer.

Again, experts from Oxford will work alongside colleagues from the Southampton Cancer Research UK Centre and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in the USA on the ground-breaking research.

Professor Tim Maughan, Clinical Director of the Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology and Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Networking Lead, is the lead researcher for the study at the University of Oxford, which could help to save the lives of more people with cancer in the city – and across the UK – in the future.

He said: “We’re delighted to be a part of this grant from Cancer Research UK to help further our understanding of new radiotherapy technologies which are more precise at targeting tumours. This vital investment will help us to provide the evidence we need to improve radiotherapy services across the UK.

“Currently, we don’t know how best to use new radiotherapy techniques or the full benefits they can offer, so we simply don’t know which patients should be getting them.

“Ultimately, we’d like to see radiotherapy becoming even more precisely targeted so we can give bigger doses in fewer treatments. Not only is this quicker and easier for patients, but it’s more effective at destroying cancer too.”

Professor Mark Middleton, who is based at the University of Oxford, is Lead Cancer Clinician for the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust and Deputy Director of the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre.

He said: “We’re delighted to be a part of this grant from Cancer Research UK to help further our understanding of how immunotherapies work. This investment is vital to help us improve on these treatments and help avoid any unnecessary side effects for patients.

“We need to understand why immunotherapies can be so successful in treating some people – making even advanced cancer vanish without a trace – but not as effective in others.

“Research such as this could ultimately lead to better ways to tailor treatment to individuals, giving them the best possible chance to beat their cancer.”

Cancer Research UK’s Centres’ Network Accelerator Awards will invest a total of around £16 million in four ground-breaking projects – including the radiotherapy and immunotherapy studies – which are helping to speed up advances in research into hard to treat cancers.

Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director for research funding at Cancer Research UK, said: “Effective partnerships are crucial for delivering the greatest science and boosting advancements in fighting cancer.

“We’re excited to be investing in collaborative and innovative research in Oxford and across the UK. It’s by working together and uniting expertise that we will accelerate cutting-edge research and save more lives.”

Academy of Medical Sciences honours eight Oxford researchers

Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Members Prof Tim Maughan and Prof Gil McVean are among the eight medical researchers at Oxford University who have been elected as Fellows of the Academy of Medical Sciences. The honour recognises outstanding contribution to the advancement of medical science, innovative application of scientific knowledge, or conspicuous service to healthcare.

Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences said: ‘These new Fellows represent the amazing diversity of talent and expertise among the UK medical research community. Through their election to the Fellowship, we recognise the outstanding contributions these individuals have made to the progress of medical science and the development of better healthcare.

‘We work with our Fellowship to create the essential connections between academia, industry and the NHS and beyond, to strengthen biomedical research and facilitate its translation into benefits for society.’

The eight Oxford researchers elected are:

  • Professor Timothy Maughan is Professor of Clinical Oncology and Deputy Director of the CRUK/MRC Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology and the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Networking Lead. His research interests focus on the treatment of patients with colorectal cancer and he is involved in clinical trial design and execution in gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Professor Gilean McVean is Professor of Statistical Genetics, Head of Bioinformatics and Statistical Genetics and Director of the Big Data Institute at Oxford University. His research covers several areas in the analysis of genetic variation, combining the development of methods for analysing high throughput sequencing data, theoretical work and empirical analysis.
  • Professor Christopher Butler is Professor of Primary Care and Clinical Director of the University of Oxford Primary Care Clinical Trials Unit at Oxford University. His research focuses on common infections (especially the appropriate use of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance), and health behaviour change.
  • Professor Georg Holländer is Hoffmann and Action Professor of Paediatrics and Head of the Department of Paediatrics at Oxford University. His research is interested in the development and function of the immune system in health and disease.
  • Professor Sarah Lamb is Kadoorie Professor of Trauma Rehabilitation and Co-Director of the Oxford Clinical Trials Research Unit at Oxford University. Her research focuses on clinical trials and medical statistics, and she is Chief Investigator for a number of trials of rehabilitation interventions.
  • Professor Martin Maiden is Professor of Molecular Epidemiology at Oxford University. His research studies the population biology and evolution of bacterial pathogens, with the objective of translating the insights obtained into benefits for human health.
  • Professor Andrew Pollard is Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and Honorary Consultant Paediatrician at Oxford University. His research interests focus on Current research activities include clinical trials of new and improved vaccines for children, invasive bacterial diseases in children in Nepal, studies of cellular and humoral immune responses to glycoconjugate vaccines, and development of a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine.
  • Professor Elizabeth Robertson is Professor of Developmental Biology and Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow at Oxford University. Her research exploits mouse genetics to investigate the key signalling cues and transcriptional regulators governing cell fate decisions in the developing mammalian embryo.

The new Fellows will be formally admitted to the Academy at a ceremony on the 29th June 2016.