Dr Simon Lord – Blood Cancer Awareness Month

Dr Simon Lord is a Senior Clinical Researcher in Experimental Cancer Therapeutics and Honorary Consultant in Medical Oncology who specialises in the treatment of breast cancer. He is based in the Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit at the Oxford Cancer Centre at the Churchill Hospital. He undertook clinical training in Southampton, Leeds and Oxford and in 2010 was awarded a CRUK Clinical Research Fellowship with Professor Adrian Harris at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford, subsequently earning a DPhil for his work investigating therapeutic approaches to target mitochondria in breast cancer.  Simon’s research interests focus on the development of new drugs and imaging for the treatment of breast cancer and he is principal or chief investigator on a number of clinical trials.

In order to grow and proliferate rapidly, cancer cells have high requirements for nutrients and energy.  Tumours often have a poor blood supply leading to low nutrient and oxygen levels and an acidic environment. Additionally, alterations in the genetic control of cancer cells can change how these cells use nutrients in specific ways. Hence, ‘cancer metabolism’ is typically very different from normal cells. Our work aims to exploit these differences in order to find treatment vulnerabilities. In this context we are trying to understand whether targeting mitochondria, ‘the energy powerhouses’ of cells can be used for cancer treatment. Mitochondria sit at a critical crossroads in the determination as to how nutrients are used by all cells, for example, in the manufacture of fats subsequently used to make new cell membranes required for the growth and proliferation of new cancer cells. We are using genetic techniques to investigate how metformin, a diabetes drug, affects breast cancer mitochondria and to understand how we might determine which patients might be more likely to benefit from metformin and other drugs that target mitochondria. Separately we wish to learn how breast cancers that develop in overweight patients might function differently in terms of which nutrients they use to grow and proliferate. Lastly, we are also investigating how new imaging techniques can exploit ‘cancer metabolism’ and how these novel scans might give us extra information about the behaviour of breast cancer and susceptibility to drug treatments.

In Oxford he is collaborating with Francesca Buffa (with whom he co-supervises a Centre funded clinical DPhil student), Skirmantas Kriaucionis, Daniel McGowan, Neel Patel and Adrian Harris. Outside of Oxford he is collaborating with John Fenwick (Institute of Translational Medicine, Liverpool) and Christian Frezza (MRC Cancer Unit, University of Cambridge).

Simon’s research is funded by the Oxford Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre, Oxford Biomedical Research Centre, Against Breast Cancer, and CRUK

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OCDEM’s Kate Lines awarded 3-year Celgene Fellowship

Kate Lines studied for a BSc in Biochemistry at Liverpool University, then a PhD in Molecular Oncology at the Barts Cancer Institute. During her PhD, Kate studied the molecular mechanisms of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinomas. Kate has been a postdoctoral research scientist in Rajesh Thakker’s laboratory (Academic Endocrine Unit) in OCDEM for 7 years, studying epigenetic mechanisms in pancreatic and pituitary neuroendocrine tumours and was recently awarded a 3-year Celgene Fellowship to investigate novel therapeutic strategies for this disease.

Pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours occur in pancreatic endocrine cells. These tumours can secrete hormones such as insulin and gastrin, and therefore can have significant endocrine morbidities, as well as the mortality associated with tumour development. There are currently limited effective treatments available for these patients, with the result being poor prognosis and a significant need to develop novel therapeutic strategies. The preferred first line treatment is surgery; however, this is not possible for all, especially those with multiple endocrine neoplasia type one (MEN1) who develop multiple tumours simultaneously. In addition, current chemotherapy approaches are often ineffective, meaning are required.

Kate’s research focuses on understanding the epigenetic mechanisms, particularly histone modifications, of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours. Kate plans to identify novel compounds (and combinations thereof) that can target the altered epigenetic states of these tumours and develop novel medical treatments will not only benefit patients who cannot undergo surgery, but may also provide a non-surgical option for patients with less aggressive tumours. Kate will be working closely with the Structural Genomics Consortium (Chas Bountra) in Oxford and Celgene for drug development and access, Medical University of Vienna (Dr Andreas Selberherr), Imperial College London (Prof Andrea Frillingand Oxford Hepatobilary and Pancreatic Surgery Department (Mr Zahir Soonawalla) for access to patient samples.

This research will be funded by the Oxford-Celgene fellowship. This fellowship provides a perfect opportunity to combine the expertise of both academia and industry. Through this collaboration Kate will have access to Celgene’s compound library, and state-of-the-art equipment for use with in vitro, in vivo and ex vivo pancreatic neuroendocrine models.

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