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Virtual Annual Cancer Symposium 2020

Registration is now open for the CRUK Oxford Centre’s 9th Annual Symposium. It will take place virtually on Wednesday 21st October 2020.

This year’s event will be different – we unfortunately cannot host our event as planned due to COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, we are not able to showcase a poster competition and abstracts will not be submitted.

However, we will be hosting a 1 day online event, which will include:

  • themed talks ranging from Non-Genetic Heterogeneity to Early Detection
  • New to Oxford session, featuring new Oxford cancer researchers and insights into where Oxford research may be going
  • a special talk by our Keynote Prof. zur Hausen

Programme:

Details of the full programme is currently being confirmed – please keep an eye on our Eventbrite page or our dedicated symposium page for further updates

Registration:

Registration is free. Sign up here

Please note that registration is only open to Centre members. (Please use this link to become a Centre member.)

 

If you have any questions regarding the Symposium please contact the Centrecancercentre@oncology.ox.ac.uk

Affordable approaches to earlier cancer diagnosis in India

Dr Toral Gathani wins seed funding as part of Cancer Research UK’s Affordable Approaches to Cancer scheme

Drug target potential for myelofibrosis

A new paper led by Dr Bethan Psaila, from the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (WIMM) of the Radcliffe Department of Medicine, has revealed a potential new immunotherapy drug target in the treatment of myelofibrosis.

Myelofibrosis is an uncommon type of bone marrow cancer characterised by gene mutations acquired in blood stem cells that lead to over-production of bone marrow cells called megakaryocytes, development of scarring or ‘fibrosis’ that stops the bone marrow being able to produce blood cells in adequate numbers, low blood counts and a large spleen.

At present, bone marrow transplant is the only potentially curative treatment for myelofibrosis, but this procedure carries high risks and only a small proportion of patients are suitable candidates for this. While drug therapies including JAK inhibitors can improve symptoms and quality of life, none are curative and these do not improve the bone marrow fibrosis. Therefore, there is a need to identify new targets for therapeutic development.

In a paper recently published in Molecular Cell, Beth Psaila and her team investigated a specific aspect of myelofibrosis, which is an increased frequency of bone marrow megakaryocyte (MK) cells. MKs are the bone marrow cell responsible for the production of platelets. While they are rare cells in healthy bone marrow, a pathogenomic feature of myelofibrosis is that they are observed in high numbers, and they are recognised as the key cellular drivers of fibrosis.

In order to better understand the cellular and molecular pathways leading to over-production of Mks and their dysfunction, the team used single-cell analyses, studying over 120,000 blood stem/progenitor cells individually.

This led to two key observations: firstly, that the proportion of blood stem cells that were genetically ‘primed’ to give rise to MKs was 11-fold higher in myelofibrosis patients than in healthy donors, and secondly that MK genes were being switched on even in the most primitive stem cells in myelofibrosis, suggesting massive expansion of a ‘direct’ route for MKs to develop from stem cells in myelofibrosis, a phenomenon that was almost undetectable in healthy bone marrow.

They found that the myelofibrosis stem/progenitor cells, but not the wild-type or normal stem cells, expressed a high level of G6B, a immunoglobulin cell-surface receptor protein. They validated G6B as an exciting potential immunotherapy target that might be utilised to specifically ablate both the cancer stem cell clone and the fibrosis-driving MK cells.

Dr Beth Psaila commented:

“The finding that G6B is markedly increased in the cancer stem cells is very important, as it suggests that targeting G6B in combination with a stem cell marker may be a way of selectively targeting the cancer-driving stem cells while sparing healthy stem cells.

“Identifying ways to knock out the disease-initiating cells is crucial to make progress in this disease, as currently there are no curative treatments available to offer the majority of our patients.”

Going forward, Beth and her team will be working on further validating their targeting strategy to see if it might be translated to the clinic.

About Beth

Beth is a CRUK Advanced Clinician Scientist at the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine. The primary focus of her group is on megakaryocyte and platelet biology in cancer, and the application of single-cell approaches to clarify the cellular pathways by which megakaryocytes arise from haematopoietic stem cells.

She trained at Clare College, Cambridge, Imperial College London/The Hammersmith Hospital, Cornell, New York, and the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda USA, Beth is also an Honorary Consultant in Haematology in Oxford and a Senior Fellow in Medicine of New College, Oxford.

This research was conducted in collaboration with Prof Adam Mead and Dr Supat Thongjuea in the WIMM, including using data that was generated by Dr Alba Rodriguez-Meira. The work was partially funded by a Cancer Research UK Advanced Clinician Scientist Fellowship, a CRUK Innovation Award; a Wellcome Career Development Fellowship and a Medical Research Council (MRC) Senior Clinical Fellowship.

New start-up Base Genomics launches

 

About the technology

TET-assisted pyridine borane sequencing (TAPS) is a new method for measuring DNA methylation, a chemical modification on cytosine bases. DNA methylation has important regulatory roles in the cell but is frequently altered in cancer. These altered DNA methylation levels are preserved in DNA that is released into the blood from cancer cells and therefore DNA methylation has great potential as the basis for a multi-cancer blood test. However, a key limitation to achieving this aim, especially for detecting cancer at the earliest stages, is the low sensitivity of current DNA methylation technology.

One of the advantages of TAPS over the current standard methodology is the avoidance of the use of bisulphite, a harsh chemical that severely degrades DNA. TAPS is a mild reaction that preserves DNA integrity and is effective at very low DNA concentrations, which would increase the sensitivity of blood-based DNA methylation assays. TAPS also better retains sequence complexity, enabling simultaneous collection of DNA methylation and genetic data, and cutting sequencing costs in half. Read more about the potential of TAPS as the basis for a multi-cancer blood test here.

The company Base Genomics has been launched to set a new gold standard in DNA methylation detection using this TAPS technology.

 

“I am thrilled about the launch of Base Genomics and look forward to seeing the TAPS technology developed in my lab applied to new technologies for cancer detection and the advancement of a variety of fields of biomedical research,”

Dr Chunxiao Song, assistant member of the Ludwig Institute Oxford Branch, co-founder of Base Genomics, chemistry advisor to the company.

 

 “Genomic technologies with the power, simplicity and broad applicability of TAPS come along very infrequently,

“It has the potential to have an impact on epigenetics similar to that which Illumina’s SBS chemistry had on Next Generation Sequencing.”

Base Genomics CTO Dr Vincent Smith.

 

About Base Genomics

Base Genomics has a team of leading scientists and clinicians, including Dr Vincent Smith, a world-leader in genomic product development and former Illumina VP; Professor Anna Schuh, Head of Molecular Diagnostics at the University of Oxford and Principal Investigator on over 30 clinical trials; Drs Chunxiao Song and Yibin Liu, co-inventors of TAPS at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Oxford; and Oliver Waterhouse, previously an Entrepreneur in Residence at Oxford Sciences Innovation and founding team member at Zinc VC.

The company has closed an oversubscribed seed funding round of $11 million USD (£9 million GBP), led by Oxford Sciences Innovation alongside investors with industry expertise in genomics and oncology. This funding will progress development of the TAPS technology, initially focusing on developing a blood test for early-stage cancer and minimal residual disease.

 

”The ability to sequence a large amount of high-quality epigenetic information from a simple blood test could unlock a new era of preventative medicine,

“In the future, individuals will not just be sequenced once to determine their largely static genetic code, but will be sequenced repeatedly over time to track dynamic epigenetic changes caused by age, lifestyle, and disease.”

Base Genomics founder and CEO Oliver Waterhouse.

 

“In order to realise the potential of liquid biopsies for clinically meaningful diagnosis and monitoring, sensitive detection and precise quantification of circulating tumour DNA is paramount,

“Current approaches are not fit for purpose to achieve this, but Base Genomics has developed a game-changing technology which has the potential to make the sensitivity of liquid biopsies a problem of the past.”

Base Genomics CMO Professor Anna Schuh

 

For more information, see the Base Genomics press release.

 

Oxford joins cancer coronavirus registry project

Oncologists at the University of Oxford have joined with researchers at the University of Leeds and Birmingham to help monitor cancer patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The purpose of the UK Coronavirus Cancer Monitoring scheme is to assess how cancer patients will be impacted by the coronavirus outbreak and help to make informed treatment pathways through clinician-lead reports. In doing so, it is hoped that the monitoring system will ensure that high-quality cancer care is being delivered in order to safeguard patients during this time.

There are many unknowns in terms of the interactions between COVID-19 and cancer, including disease-specific mortality such as which type of cancer patients are at risk, age-specific cancer mortality such as how older cancer patients will cope with coronavirus infection, interaction with cancer treatments and who is most at risk in terms of treatment, impact of public health interventions and potential impact on patients.

Oxford will contribute to the project by collecting information to submit to a database, which tracks the prevalence of COVID-19 infections with associated anonymised data about the site of disease and mortality. This will be achieved through a newly-formed network of cancer COVID-19 response reporting clinicians, covering 82% of the UK’s cancer centre network.

In return, the scheme will relay daily updates back to the Oxford cancer centres and help to inform key decisions for patients who are at-risk.

The project team is made up of medical oncologists, data scientists and graphic designers including the University of Oxford, University of Birmingham, University of Leeds, Kings College London, The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, University College London and Edinburgh Cancer Hospital. This work is supported by the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.

Oxford technology holds great promise for a multi-cancer blood test

Ongoing Oxford research aims to improve the sensitivity of cancer blood tests with the goal of earlier detection for a variety of cancers.

Oxford University and Sichuan University form joint Centre for Gastrointestinal Cancer

The University of Oxford-Sichuan University Huaxi Joint Centre for Gastrointestinal Cancer is a new international collaboration that seeks to develop an integrated gastrointestinal cancer plan through the exchanging of ideas and resources.

Dr Eileen Parkes joins Oxford Cancer

Eileen brings research into the body’s innate immune response to cancer and how we can harness these pathways to develop novel clinical treatments

Professor Sir Peter Ratcliffe elected as an AACR Academy Fellow

Sir Peter joins the ranks of the American Association for Cancer Research’s finest scientists.

Tackling oesophageal cancer early detection challenges through AI

Dr Sharib Ali specialises in the applications of AI to early oesophageal cancer detection