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Queen’s researchers highlight how precision oncology innovation can deliver a new “Health is Wealth” agenda for Northern Ireland
Attendees at the lauch of the Precision Oncology Report
Prof Chris Elliott, Ms Catherine Seeley, MLA, Prof Jose Bengoechea, Prof Mark Lawler, Mr Mark H. Durkan, MLA, Ms Paula Bradley, MLA and Chair of Parliamentary Health Committee, Mr Gary Middleton, MLA, Mr Robbie Butler, MLA, Prof David Waugh.

View the Precision Oncology Report here

Innovation in the life sciences has a central role to play in preserving the health of the Northern Ireland citizens and promoting wealth generation within the Northern Ireland economy.

Cancer is one of the biggest killers in Northern Ireland but represents an area of strength in biomedical research and its translation for patient benefit.

In launching the Precision Oncology Report “Evidence-enabled outcomes research to inform precision oncology innovation adoption by health systems” and presenting it before the Stormont Health Committee during their meeting at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen’s, Prof Mark Lawler, Chair in Translational Cancer Genomics in CCRCB highlighted how a precision oncology approach, where a detailed understanding of the biology of cancer informs care pathways, is increasingly underpinning the delivery of personalised care for the cancer patient and contributing to the growing biotech sector in Northern Ireland .

“Northern Ireland punches above its weight in this rapidly evolving area which is providing us with new approaches to prevent and treat this killer disease and preserve and improve the lives of cancer survivors in Northern Ireland,” said Prof Lawler. “The report highlights the role of CCRCB as both an innovator and an enabler of a precision oncology agenda that is patient focussed, allied to a clear pathway for industry-academia partnerships that promote mutual benefit,” said Prof David Waugh, Director, CCRCB.

In lung cancer, research lead by Dr Gerry Hanna, CCRCB and Northern Ireland Cancer Centre on the use of Stereotactic ABlative Radiotherapy (SABR), an innovative method that allows very precise delivery of high doses of radiotherapy to particular targets in the body, has led to the commissioning of SABR for early lung cancer.  The success of this initiative has led to the SABR Lung Implementation Team receiving the UK Cancer Team Collaboration of the Year Award at the 2016 Quality in Care Awards in London recently. “The adoption of SABR as standard-of-care is an extremely exciting development” said Dr Hanna.  “It emphasises how  innovation can drive a new approach and offer hope in a disease which kills over 1,100 citizens in Northern Ireland each year”.

The human papilloma virus (HPV) is implicated in the development of cervical cancer and is a major contributor to sexually transmitted disease. Research presented in the report emphasises the role of HPV in cancers which occur in both sexes such as head and neck and anal cancers, both of which are on the rise in Northern Ireland. “This evidence, combined with health economic analysis demonstrating the cost effectiveness of HPV vaccination for both sexes, supports our proposal for a universal vaccination policy for adolescent girls and boys in Northern Ireland”, said Dr Gillian Prue, Lecturer in the School of Nursing and Midwifery, QUB.

In early breast cancer, there is a need to determine which patients benefit from treatment with chemotherapy, while sparing those patients who derive no benefit, and for whom the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy can negatively impact on their Quality-Of-Life. Research presented here, in collaboration with colleagues in the Republic of Ireland, highlights the efficacy of a 21-gene signature test in stratifying breast cancer patients to receive either chemotherapy or hormonal therapy, thus ensuring the right treatment is provided to the right patient using the best available information. Health economic analysis indicates that use of this 21-gene signature test is cost effective and potentially cost saving, thus supporting the report’s recommendation for its employment to inform treatment decision-making in early breast cancer in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has a significant international reputation in colorectal cancer research. A crucial component of this recognition has been the close collaboration between academia and industry, as exemplified by the research enabled partnership between CCRCB and Almac, one of Northern Ireland’s leading indigenous companies and an industry leader in both the pharmaceutical and biotech/molecular diagnostics sectors. “Supporting this type of academic-industry partnership is key to translating high quality discovery science into improved outcomes for cancer patients and measureable assets for the growing life sciences sector in Northern Ireland”, said Prof Richard Kennedy, Vice President at Almac Diagnostics and McClay Professor of Medical Oncology at Queen’s.

The report emphasises the need for publication and implementation of a new cancer strategy for Northern Ireland that promotes innovation and sets targets for improved outcomes and better quality of life for cancer patients in Northern Ireland. “In order to establish this Health is Wealth agenda, we recommend the establishment of a multi-stakeholder Innovation Forum and the creation of an evidence-focussed Outcomes Research Unit to accumulate and evaluate evidence for adoption of innovations that can impact positively on cancerprevention, cancer control and improve quality of life for Northern Ireland citizens” said Prof Lawler.

“Promoting a cross sectoral innovation agenda is a key enabler for the biotech and biopharmaceutical sector in Northern Ireland”, said Colette Goldrick, Director of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, Northern Ireland. “The recommendations in this report, including the establishment of an Outcomes Research Unit will provide the evidence base for innovation adoption in Northern Ireland.”

The Precision Oncology Report “Evidence-enabled outcomes research to inform precision oncology innovation adoption by health systems” is available here

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Fighting Bowel Cancer with Fitness

A Queen’s University scientist is bringing a new clinical trial to the UK that could help patients with bowel cancer reduce the risk of their disease coming back after treatment.

Dr Vicky Coyle, from the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology, has been awarded £750,000 from Stand Up To Cancer, a joint fundraising campaign from Cancer Research UK and Channel 4.

Now she is urging people across Northern Ireland to join together with doctors, nurses, scientists and celebrities to back Stand Up To Cancer this October and help accelerate progress into life-saving research into cancer.

Cancer and physical activity

Dr Coyle will lead the trial in the UK looking into whether taking part in a supervised physical activity programme could help decrease the risk of the disease coming back.

The trial is part of a larger international study called the CHALLENGE trial. Developed by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, the CHALLENGE trial is already underway in Canada, Australia, France, Israel, South Korea and the United States and hopes to enlist almost 1,000 patients worldwide.

Each year in the UK, around 41,900 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer – 1,200 of those are in Northern Ireland. For some of these people, their cancer will return.

 There is some evidence that patients who are physically active have a greater chance of surviving bowel cancer, a lower chance of their disease coming back after treatment and a better quality of life afterwards.

But to date, no study has been big enough to prove this conclusively or to determine how much exercise patients would need to do to reduce the risk of their cancer coming back.

Recruiting patients around the UK

Dr Coyle and her team will recruit patients from hospitals around the UK, including the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre in Belfast, who have just finished their bowel cancer treatment and are currently not physically active.

Some of the patients will take part in a three-year programme of physical activity that will be tailored to each patient. The exercise they do can be in any form, for example, purposeful walking, running or cycling.

Patients will initially take part in a six-month programme of supervised weekly exercise sessions. After that they will be monitored and encouraged to continue their exercise programme via regular phone calls with their trainer. The amount of physical activity they are doing will be measured using a device called an accelerometer to give the team a better idea of how much patients are exercising.

The team will also look at how this type of exercise programme could become part of the standard treatment pathway for patients if the study is successful.

How much exercise will prevent bowel cancer?

This research has the potential not only to improve patient outcomes in Northern Ireland and the UK but also on an international level, reinforcing Queen’s University’s position as a leader on world class research which will have a lasting impact around the globe.

Dr Coyle said: “The aim of this study is to look at using exercise as a possible treatment to stop bowel cancer coming back in patients who have already undergone treatment for the disease. What we will be trying to find is an amount or ‘dose’ of weekly exercise – like we do for drugs – that could do this.

“Our hope is that by defining an amount of physical activity that could help prevent bowel cancer returning and showing that patients can successfully increase their activity levels by taking part in a structured exercise programme, we can change treatment pathways and improve outcomes for our patients with bowel cancer”.

 “And the great thing about investigating exercise as part of treatment is that there are very little in the way of side effects, and there are many wider health benefits.”

Importance of clinical trials

Launched in the UK in 2012, Stand Up To Cancer has already raised more than £25million to fund translational research, which takes developments made in the lab and transforms them into new tests and treatments for cancer patients.

Supported by a host of celebrities including Davina McCall and Alan Carr, Stand Up To Cancer will culminate this Friday 21 October with a night of live TV on Channel 4 led by the brightest stars in film, TV and music.

Dr Coyle said: “None of the amazing progress we’ve made against cancer could have happened without clinical trials.

“From life-saving drugs like tamoxifen, to advances in surgery and radiotherapy that cure thousands of people every year, every new treatment, test and screening programme needs a trial to make it happen.

“My team and I are very excited about receiving this funding from Stand Up To Cancer, which we hope will make a real difference to the lives of people with bowel cancer.”

Stand Up To Cancer

This year, there are many ways to Stand Up To Cancer and help get breakthroughs from the petri dish to the patients who need them right now, and save more lives.

Cancer Research UK is calling on everyone in Northern Ireland to take a stand and do something to help raise money at work, school or at home – from fancy dress days and sponsored silences to bake sales and open mic nights.

Jean Walsh, Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson in Northern Ireland said: “One in two born in the UK after 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Whether it’s you or someone you know, it leaves its mark on us all.

“So the time to act is now. We’re on the brink of a revolution in cancer research. Thanks to new treatments, screening and earlier diagnosis, more people are surviving the disease than ever before.

“But we can’t afford to stand still. It’s time to rebel against cancer, raise money and save lives. Research is our weapon against this terrible disease and we’re calling on an army of supporters in Northern Ireland to stand up to cancer and show their support.”

The charity is urging people to get started right now and sign up for their free fundraising pack which includes everything supporters need to spark creative ideas and help beat cancer sooner.

People across Northern Ireland can also show their support for the campaign in style as a fun range of clothing and accessories for men, women and children is available online at standuptocancer.org.uk

The range includes special edition Henry Holland designed t-shirts (£9.99) hoodies (£25) pin badges (£1) wristbands (£0.99) digital watches (£2.49) and umbrellas (£2.99).

For more information and to get involved visit standuptocancer.org.uk

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Belfast Cancer Researchers Lead the Way in Cutting-Edge Research
Prof Manuel Salto-Tellez
Prof Manuel Salto-Tellez

Belfast scientists will play a key role in groundbreaking research into the final stages of cancer.

Researchers from the city’s Belfast Cancer Research UK Centre will be collaborating with scientists across the UK, following the announcement of the charity’s Centres’ Network Accelerator Awards. 

Designed to inspire new approaches to beating cancer, the awards will invest around £4 million, over five years, in a UK-wide initiative to expand the first national post-mortem cancer study.  The research aims to understand how cancer changes and evolves in advanced stages of the disease to help develop better treatments for cancer that has spread. 

Researchers in Belfast will join forces with scientists from Leicester, Cambridge, Glasgow, Manchester and London to roll out the study collecting blood and tissue samples from patients who have died from cancer.

This work will be vital for understanding the evolution and final stages of the disease and the genetics of certain tumours that are hard for doctors to take samples from when patients are alive, like brain tumours.  Scientists will be able to study how tumours develop and spread in advanced cancer, how and why tumours become resistant to treatment and how the body reacts to the disease during the final stages, as well as looking at potential ways to boost the immune system to fight cancer.

Professor Manuel Salto-Tellez is the lead researcher at the Cancer Research UK Centre.  He said: “We’re delighted to be a part of this grant from Cancer Research UK. It will help to further our understanding of cancer and give patients the choice to contribute to research after their death. 

“The vital investment in this study will help us complete the whole cancer picture – from diagnosis to end of life – which we need to understand how the disease changes and evolves over time. It’s these changes which make the cancer difficult to treat because it can stop responding to treatment. 

“We are so incredibly thankful to the patients who have agreed to take part. With their help we can do research that will help more people survive this devastating disease.”

Cancer Research UK’s Centres’ Network Accelerator Awards will invest a total of around £16 million in four ground-breaking projects - including the post-mortem cancer study - 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 Belfast and across the UK. It’s by working together and uniting expertise that we will accelerate cutting-edge research and save more lives.”

The post-mortem cancer study is not yet open for patients across the UK. 

For more information about Cancer Research UK visit cruk.org.

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Big Data Can Save Lives, Says Leading Queen's University Cancer Expert
Prof Mark Lawler
Prof Mark Lawler

The sharing of genetic information from millions of cancer patients around the world could be key to revolutionising cancer prevention and care, according to a leading cancer expert from Queen's University Belfast.

Professor Mark Lawler, from Queen's University’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology is corresponding author of a paper published today in the prestigious international journal Nature Medicine.

The paper highlights the potential of ‘big data’ to unlock the secrets inside cancer cells and enable the development of more effective personalised treatments.

Professor Lawler is also Co-Chair of the Cancer Task Team of the Global Alliance for Genomics and Health (GA4GH), which was established in 2013 to create a common framework for the responsible, voluntary and secure sharing of patients’ clinical and genomic data.

GA4GH is a partnership between scientists, clinicians, patients and the IT and Life Sciences industry involving more than 400 organisations in over 40 countries, and has published today’s paper as a blueprint to enable the sharing of patient data to improve patient outcomes.

Professor Lawler said: “The term ‘big data’ refers to huge amounts of information that can be analysed by high-performance computers to reveal patterns, trends and associations. In medical terms, this includes clinical and genomic data that is derived from patients during, for example, diagnostic testing and treatment.”

Professor Lillian Siu from Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and the University of Toronto, who is joint lead author on this study said: “With the development of new technologies that have enabled the rapid and affordable profiling of cancer tumours, there has been an explosion of clinical and genomic data. Hospitals, laboratories and research facilities around the world hold huge amounts of this data from cancer patients. But this information is currently held in isolated ‘silos’ that don’t talk to each other. It is this lack of information sharing that threatens the advancement of tailored patient care.”

According to Professor Lawler: “Cancer is an incredibly complex disease, and it is constantly changing. Each person’s cancer is different. The key to staying ahead in the fight against cancer is to properly understand how the disease evolves. We need to look at the big picture and identify patterns between groups of patients, whose information currently resides in different databases and institutions. To do this, we must break down the ‘data silos’ that Professor Siu refers to and ensure that genetic and clinical information is shared.

“The aim is to create a type of ‘cancer genomic internet’. Imagine if we could create a searchable cancer database that allowed doctors to match patients from different parts of the world with suitable clinical trials. This genetic matchmaking approach would allow us to develop personalised treatments for each individual’s cancer, precisely targeting rogue cells and improving outcomes for patients.

“This data sharing presents logistical, technical and ethical challenges. Our paper highlights these challenges and proposes potential solutions to allow the sharing of data in a timely, responsible and effective manner. We hope this blueprint will be adopted by researchers around the world and enable a unified global approach to unlocking the value of data for enhanced patient care.”

The paper, entitled ‘Facilitating a culture of responsible and effective sharing of cancer genome data’ is published in Nature Medicine, Volume 22, Number 5, pp 464-471 May 2016.

Professor Lawler is funded by the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK.

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Oesophageal Cancer Coffee Morning
Members of the oesophageal research team at the coffee morning

Thanks to everyone who donated to the Oesophageal cancer research coffee morning on Wednesday 27th April held in the Centre for Public Health. Lots of people and businesses donated baked goods and prizes for the raffle. A very special thanks to those members of the Cancer Epidemiology Research group and the Oesophageal cancer research team working at CCRCB (pictured) who contributed and helped out on the morning.

The total amount raised was a whopping £1,100! These funds will go towards oesophageal cancer research at two charities – Cancer Research UK and OCHRE - both of which are doing great work in raising awareness and funding research aimed at tackling this devastating disease. 

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CCRCB researchers discover potential new way to better tailor treatments for early breast tumours

Leading researchers at CCRCB, Queen’s University Belfast have discovered a potential new way to separate patients with the very earliest forms of breast cancer into risk groups and better tailor treatment to their needs.

Dr Niamh Buckley – a Breast Cancer Now Scientific Fellow – and her team set out to find a way to predict the likelihood that a woman diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer (DCIS) had also developed an initially undetected invasive form of the disease, or that they would go on to develop invasive cancer in the future – information that could enable doctors to personalise their treatment accordingly.

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is the most common form of non-invasive breast cancer, occurs when cancer cells have developed within the milk ducts but not yet broken out and spread into the surrounding breast tissue.

About 5,000 cases of DCIS are diagnosed every year in the UK, with 130 in Northern Ireland alone. It has been estimated that about half of DCIS tumours will progress into invasive breast cancer, but it is difficult to predict which cases are likely to do this.

Women with DCIS sometimes also develop early invasive cancers that are so small that they go undetected through the traditional diagnostic investigations (biopsy, ultrasound and mammogram). Dr Buckley’s research has found that a range of biomarkers in their DCIS tumour could give patients (and their doctors) the option of knowing they were more likely to develop invasive disease – if they hadn’t done so already – and therefore of being offered more intensive treatment.

By the same token, while women at high risk of having co-existing invasive breast cancer could then receive more intensive treatment, those at lower risk could also elect to have more conservative treatment.

The biomarkers which showed the most promise for predicting which DCIS cases were linked to invasive disease were ‘Ki67’ and ‘p53’, with high levels in cancer cells indicating that these cells are multiplying rapidly.

The team also identified potential treatments which could be used to target the biomarkers they found to be significantly associated with invasive disease.

Of particular interest was that the levels of markers called HER2 and TOP2A were similar in both DCIS and co-existing invasive cases. Breast cancers that produce large amounts of HER2 can be treated with the drug Herceptin, and chemotherapy drugs called anthracyclines could be particularly effective against tumours that produce TOP2A. This means that if DCIS cases are found to produce either HER2 or TOP2A, Herceptin or anthracycline drugs could be used to treat not only the DCIS tumour, but also any co-existing invasive breast cancer.

The study, which has been published in Oncotarget, was funded by Cancer Research UK and was carried out at the Northern Ireland Molecular Pathology Laboratory at Queen’s University Belfast under the guidance of Dr Buckley and Professor Manuel Salto-Tellez. Dr Buckley’s research is supported by a Breast Cancer Now Scientific Fellowship, made possible by ASDA’s Tickled Pink.

Dr Niamh Buckley, Breast Cancer Now Scientific Fellow at Queen’s University Belfast, said:

“Increased knowledge of the molecular profile of non-invasive cancers can only serve to enhance our understanding of the disease and, in an era of personalised medicine, can only bring us closer to improving breast cancer care.

“Our findings require further validation through clinical trials but we believe that the use of biomarkers could pave the way to a significant improvement in the management of non-invasive breast cancer.”

Dr Richard Berks, Senior Research Communications Officer at Breast Cancer Now, said:

“Whilst the screening programme has allowed for non-invasive cancers to be detected early and treated accordingly, we don’t yet know which cases are likely to progress into invasive breast cancer or already have co-existing but undetected invasive disease. Research like Dr Buckley’s is vital to developing our knowledge in this area.

“It’s these type of studies that will feed in to the future development of a whole new generation of post-diagnosis testing that could tell a clinician exactly how to treat an individual patient to achieve the best possible outcome for them.”

Launched in June 2015 with the ambition of stopping women dying from the disease by 2050, Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s largest breast cancer charity, created by the merger of Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.

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Queen’s University in bid to increase European cancer survival to 70 per cent by 2035

To mark World Cancer Day on 4 February, scientists at Queen’s launched a Europe-wide initiative, ‘Vision 70:35’, to increase cancer survival to 70 per cent by 2035. 

Led by Professor Mark Lawler, from the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University Belfast and Vice President European Cancer Concord (ECC), the initiative is in collaboration with the European Cancer Patient Coalition and other European partners. 

Speaking ahead of the launch, Professor Lawler said: "Vision 70:35 emphasises the scale of our ambition to improve cancer survival rates by an additional 20% over the next 20 years.  We believe that this target is achievable, provided we share best practice and promote innovation and research across European nations and regions.  It is further evidence of Queen’s University’s commitment to advancing knowledge and changing lives. We are actively addressing issues such as early diagnosis, equal access and the role of precision cancer medicine to achieve our 70:35 target.”

Margaret Grayson, Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Cancer Research Consumer Forum said: "Vision 70:35 is a patient focused initiative.  It provides hope for our cancer patients and their loved ones, and emphasises how research can play a big part in improving cancer outcomes."  

Professor Peter Selby, University of Leeds and President ECC, said: “Our Vision 70:35 can deliver, but only if we work together. ECC is partnering with many pan European Organisations including the European Cancer Organisation (ECCO), the European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) the Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL), the European Organisation for the Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), The European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) and the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM)   in order to achieve this ambitious target.”

Professor Patrick Johnston, President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, said: “This 70:35 Vision represents a significant opportunity to drive a European-wide initiative that champions the role of innovation and research in providing the best level of cancer care.  I am delighted that Queen’s is continuing to provide leadership in an ambitious strategy that has the potential to deliver real benefits for all European citizens.”

Vision 70:35 is the key implementation phase of the European Cancer Patient's Bill of Rights, a Queen’s University-led initiative which was launched in the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 2014.  

In order to emphasise how working together can help improve cancer outcomes, a series of handshakes were performed between partner organisations on World Cancer Day, starting in London, passing through Brussels and a number of other European capital cities and culminating in a symbolic joining of hands by MEPs at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Professor Lawler symbolically shook hands in Brussels with Professor Dominique de Valeriola, Director of the Institute Jules Bordet, Brussels, Belgium and President, Organisation of European Cancer Institutes.

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Belfast named as location for a Precision Medicine Catapult centre of excellence
 

The Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen's University will be involved in a new UK centre of excellence to understand and treat patients’ illnesses more precisely.

The Precision Medicine Catapult today announced that Belfast will be one of six initial locations for its regional centres of excellence network, alongside Cardiff, Glasgow, Leeds, Manchester and Oxford.

Each centre will act as a hub for research and development in precision medicine, which uses diagnostic tests and data-based insights to understand a patient’s illness more precisely and select treatments with more predictable, safer and cost-effective outcomes.

Speaking about the announcement, Queen’s Vice-Chancellor Professor Patrick Johnston said: “Queen’s is pleased to be involved in the UK’s new national innovation centre for precision medicine. The decision to establish a regional centre of excellence in Belfast is testament to Northern Ireland’s excellence in terms of research and clinical expertise in precision medicine. Queen’s is already conducting life-changing and life-saving research in this area. We look forward to continuing that important work alongside our partners in the Precision Medicine Catapult to make the UK the most attractive place in the world in which to develop precision medicine tests and therapies.”

Catapults are a UK Government initiative, established and part-funded by Innovate UK, where the best of the UK’s innovative businesses and researchers work together to bring new products and services to commercialisation. The Precision Medicine Catapult was established in April 2015 to harness the breadth of UK expertise, developing innovative technologies and solutions for broader use across the UK’s healthcare sector.

A physical presence will be established at each centre, with local recruitment to build expert teams. The centres will work collaboratively with local, national and global stakeholders including government, academia, health systems and SMEs, with broad industry engagement to identify and resolve barriers to building a leading UK precision medicine industry.

John McKinley, CEO of the Precision Medicine Catapult, said: “We're delighted to announce the location of these centres of excellence, each with access to a unique blend of regional expertise. Project development work has been ongoing across the UK and we will be launching offices and related programmes over the coming months. As well as growing the UK's strong position in precision medicine, we believe our network will deliver health and economic impact at a local and national level.”

Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said: “Precision medicine allows clinicians to select treatments for patients which are more targeted, more predictable in terms of response and ultimately safer and more cost-effective.  Northern Ireland already has world leading companies and expertise operating in this growing field. 

“The location of a Precision Medicine Catapult centre of excellence in Northern Ireland recognises the expertise and innovation that exists within our health and care service and can help ensure that the care we provide to our patients becomes ever more effective.”

Jennifer Welsh, Director of Surgery and Specialist Services in Belfast Trust said: “This announcement is recognition that Belfast is in a leading position in terms of developing precision medicine tests and therapies. This is building on years of collaboration between Belfast Trust and key partners such as the Pathology Network and Queen’s University. It is an exciting time which will bring significant long-term benefits to our patients.”

For more information visit www.catapult.org.uk

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Leading CCRCB Specialist Lands Top Role
Professor Kevin Prise
Professor Kevin Prise
 

A leading cancer expert from Queen’s University who is pioneering improved approaches for treating cancer with radiotherapy is set to become the next Vice-President of an international research society.

Professor Kevin Prise, Deputy Director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen’s, has been chosen as Vice-President-Elect of the US Radiation Research Society. He was elected via a ballot of all Society Members.

Professor of Radiation Biology, Kevin leads the Radiation Biology Group at CCRCB which is working on improved approaches for treating cancer with radiotherapy.  Professor Prise, in collaboration with Professor Joe O’Sullivan, Clinical Director, and Professor Alan Hounsell, Clinical Physics Research Lead, plays a major role in the Prostate Cancer UK Movember Centre of Excellence at CCRCB which is researching new approaches for treating men who are likely to fail current treatments for prostate cancer.

Speaking about his appointment, Professor Prise said: “This is a rare privilege and exciting challenge, especially for a non-US member of the Society.

This role is a great opportunity to profile internationally the work we are doing at Queen’s and the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology to improve outcomes for cancer patients.”

Professor Prise, living in Lisburn but originally from Aberdeen, will take up the position of Vice-President in September 2016 and will serve as President from September 2017.

 

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National award for Queen’s cancer researchers
The CRUK Accelerator launch meeting
The CRUK Accelerator launch meeting

Cancer experts from Queen’s University Belfast have received a major award exceeding £3.6M from Cancer Research UK aimed at developing a national digital pathology programme to assist and accelerate the delivery of Precision Medicine in the UK.

The CRUK Accelerator Award brings together a consortium of cancer pathologists, biologists and immunologists from the Belfast Cancer Research UK Centre, who will work in partnership with researchers from the Universities of Southampton, Manchester and Newcastle, University College London and the Institute of Cancer Research.

Already recognised as experts in identifying faulty genes and molecules in tumours, the Belfast team will now lead this nationwide research programme dedicated to expanding the application and use of digital pathology to quantify specific tumour markers. The programme will be supported using software from PathXL, a Queen’s University spin-out company which specialises in high resolution imaging of tumours and cloud-based digital pathology.

Queen’s Professor David Waugh, Director of the Centre for Cancer Centre and Cell Biology, said:  “The selection of this research programme submitted by the Belfast CRUK Centre is further proof that Queen’s cancer researchers are at the cutting edge of the latest innovations to improve outcomes for cancer patients across the world. Through this new research programme we will develop knowledge that can inform the targeted use of immunotherapeutic agents in cancer patients.”

“We are thrilled to receive this award and I congratulate my colleagues Professor Manuel Salto-Tellez and Professor Peter Hamilton, in leading this successful bid. It is further recognition of the powerful alliance that our Centre is forging with local and international industry to deliver new advances in cancer care.”

Queen’s University Belfast will also lead the education and training programme in pathology that underpins the national network.

Professors Salto-Tellez and Peter Hamilton, Professors of Molecular and Digital Pathology respectively at Queen’s University, added: “Traditionally, researchers have used standard slides to examine tissue cells under the microscope. However, in recent years our research at Queen’s has pioneered the way to exploit digital technology to revolutionize the way we look at tumours, enabling us to obtain a deeper understanding of the cancer and provide a more detailed diagnosis to clinicians, as well as better tools for our scientists."

Professor Hamilton said: “This award demonstrates how Belfast has been leading in digital biotechnology for cancer research and diagnostics.  This CRUK funding will allow Belfast and the wider UK team to accelerate cancer discovery using these novel technologies, promote their application in clinical practice and maintain Belfast CRUK Centre’s reputation as a world leader in digital molecular pathology."

Des Speed, CEO of PathXL, said: “We are delighted that this innovative research project is progressing to implementation, and are looking forward to working with all centres in the consortium.

“It is very exciting to be at the forefront of this UK-wide strategy for digital and molecular pathology in cancer, which has the potential to drive dramatic change. This award is further recognition that Northern Ireland is leading the way in developing digital pathology, and of the strength of the PathXL software platform.”

Researchers from each of the collaborating UK academic institutes met at Queen’s University on 19 and 20 August to launch this new initiative.

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Student of the Year 'strikes a chord'
First Trust Bank Student of the Year Laura Graham

The winner of the annual First Trust Bank Queen’s Student of the Year Award is Dental student Laura Graham from Portglenone, Co Antrim. Laura was chosen for her international academic success and for her role in student music.

The Award, which is presented by the Queen’s Graduates’ Association (QGA) with generous backing from First Trust Bank, is one of the highlights of Graduation Week. Now in its 17th year, it recognises exceptional students for excellence, achievement or service either to the University or to the wider community.

Speaking ahead of the presentation Mark McKeown, Manager of First Trust Bank University Road, said: “We have been supporting these important Awards since their inception and are very proud to be associated with such a stand-out event in the University calendar.

“Our endorsement recognises and celebrates the achievements of all those Queen's students who make such an invaluable contribution to life in Northern Ireland and beyond. This year’s Student of the Year – Laura Graham – is an inspirational role model for all students but especially those considering undertaking postgraduate research.”

While taking a year out from her Dentistry studies to complete an intercalated Master’s Degree of Research at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB), Laura focused on the role of p63 and BRCA1 in Oropharyngeal Cancer – genes which are linked to early-onset of breast and ovarian cancer. She was then selected to represent the Irish division at the International Association of Dental Research annual conference in Boston, Massachusetts in May where she won the Junior Researcher Hatton Award, the most prestigious student research prize in world dentistry.

In addition to a lead role in the St Vincent de Paul society at Queen’s, Laura was also actively involved in the student orchestra (where she played violin) and was a soprano in the Chamber Choir. Last year she received a Degree Plus award for time spent with the Choir.

Feargus McCauley, President of the QGA who delivered the Student of the Year citation, believes that the First Trust Awards are an acknowledgement of all that is best about Queen’s. He said: “With the recent opening of the Graduate School at Queen’s, the University is poised to be a powerhouse of postgraduate research.

“This year’s Student of the Year Award recognises the achievement and impact of a gifted researcher, an exemplary master’s student, and a person of great tenacity and commitment. Laura Graham richly deserves recognition this year.”

The Student of the Year receives a trophy and £500.

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Queen’s Researchers in £5 Million Programme to Improve Bowel Cancer Survival
Professor Mark Lawler
Professor Mark Lawler

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast have launched a revolutionary personalised treatment programme to help improve bowel cancer survival rates.

The £5 million initiative aims to fundamentally change how we treat bowel cancer patients, both in the UK and around the world, by personalising their treatments and ensuring that each patient gets access to the most effective therapies. 

The S-CORT Consortium, jointly launched and funded by Medical Research Council (MRC) and Cancer Research UK (CRUK), will employ the latest state-of-the-art techniques to define the genetic make-up of bowel cancer cells, collected from over 2,000 patients from large clinical trials, and use the information to develop personalised care plans for individual cancer patients.

More than 41,500 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in the UK. One of the consortium’s key aims is to allow the most effective therapies to be delivered to newly-diagnosed bowel cancer patients.

Professor Mark Lawler, Chair of Translational Cancer Genomics at Queen’s University Belfast’s Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) and Queen’s lead on the programme, said: “This Precision Medicine approach, where we match the right patient to the right treatment, has the potential to revolutionise how we treat this deadly disease.  It will also allow us to spare patients the often debilitating side effects of ineffective therapies, thus improving their quality of life.”

Professor Patrick Johnston, Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s and a principal investigator of the S-CORT Consortium, said: “I am delighted that Queen’s researchers are playing such a prominent role in a UK-wide collaborative programme that has the potential to significantly improve the lives of bowel cancer patients.  This is further evidence of Queen’s University leading on world class research which will have a lasting impact around the globe.”

Head of the S-CORT Consortium, Professor Tim Maughan, based at the University of Oxford, said: “Bowel cancer survival has more than doubled in the last 40 years. But there is still a lot more work to do.  Recognising this challenge, we have brought together key partners to develop new ways to tailor treatment to the patients who will benefit the most, and make a significant difference to their chances of beating this common disease.”

Margaret Grayson, Chair of the Northern Ireland Cancer Research Consumer Forum, said:  “We are very excited to be an active part of this research programme that has a clear line of sight to us, the cancer patients.”

Craigavon based biotech company, Almac Diagnostics are a key partner in the initiative. Professor Richard Kennedy, McClay Professor of Experimental Medicine (CCRCB) at Queen’s and Vice-President and Medical Director of Almac Diagnostics, said: “We see the potential for industry and  academia to work together in partnership to develop new tests that will predict which patients will respond to different therapies.  This research has the potential not only to improve patient outcomes in Northern Ireland and across the UK, it also can contribute to the local economy.”

The announcement is made during Bowel Cancer Awareness month and represents a significant commitment from MRC and CRUK in developing a more personalised medicine strategy in this common cancer.

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Queen’s Leads International Research Programme in Precision Cancer Medicine
Members of the Precision Cancer Medicine Programme

Queen’s University Belfast is leading a major new international initiative into modern cancer care medicine which was announced in Washington D.C.

Researchers from Queen’s University’s world-class Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) in partnership with researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Washington are working together to deliver a £2.5M 4 year PhD programme in Precision Cancer Medicine.

Precision Cancer Medicine  utilises our increased biological understanding of  cancer to drive a more selective approach, ensuring patients receive therapeutically effective treatment based on their genetic make-up, while avoiding treatment-related side effects. CCRCB has established an innovative Academia-Industry-Healthcare Precision Cancer Medicine  pipeline that is delivering new diagnostics and new therapies for cancer patients.   

The innovative Doctoral Training Programme in Precision Cancer Medicine will initially provide 12 Queen’s students with an unrivalled opportunity to perform cutting edge research at a world renowned cancer institution, positioning them as future leaders in an area that is revolutionising how we deliver 21st century medicine to cancer patients.

Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, Professor Patrick Johnston said: "It is extremely exciting to be announcing this initiative here in Washington. It provides significant opportunities for students to be exposed to state-of-the-art technologies and receive quality mentorship from researchers both at the NCI and at Queen’s and it is further evidence of how Queen’s researchers are continuing to advance knowledge and change lives at a global level."

Dr Stephen Chanock, Chief, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, NCI said: "We welcome this opportunity for Northern Ireland students to come to the National Institutes of Health. They will join with fellow graduate students from many parts of the world in an academic milieu that will encourage research excellence."  

In this Doctoral Training Programme, PhD students will not only acquire specialist research skills, but will also be exposed to entrepreneurship, innovation and leadership training, as part of a collaboration between the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences,  the Queen’s University Management School and the William J Clinton Leadership Institute at Queen’s.

"This cross faculty, interdisciplinary PhD Programme is an excellent example of the type of modern postgraduate degree that we are now offering to students attending Queen’s." said Professor Margaret Topping, Dean of Queen’s Graduate School.

Professor David Waugh, Director, CCRCB said: "Doctoral training is a key component of our Precision Cancer Medicine Programme. Partnering with researchers at the NCI not only enhances the student experience, but also provides significant opportunities for future research collaborations with CCRCB scientists."

Professor Mark Lawler, Associate Director of Postgraduate Studies at CCRCB and chief architect of the programme said: "This vibrant Doctoral Training Programme actively encourages excellence with impact, delivering a cadre of innovative, business-aware and socially responsible scientists who will compete successfully in the evolving global research and bio-industry communities. It provides Northern Ireland students with a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to further their careers at a world famous cancer institution and deliver research with global impact."

For Further Information Please contact Professor Mark Lawler Associate Director of Postgraduate Studies, CCRCB and Director of the Doctoral Training programme in Precision Cancer Medicine.

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