Weston Park Cancer Charity announces near £300,000 grant for new personalised treatment research project
We're delighted to have reaffirmed our commitment to enabling research in Sheffield by awarding a near £300,000 grant to a University of Sheffield research project which could enable global change to the effectiveness of cancer treatment.
The Ex Vivo drug screening project will aim to improve outcomes for cancer patients by trialling a new technique to better anticipate how particular patients will react to certain types of treatment.
Currently, for various reasons patient response to traditional treatment does not always ‘match up’ to what would normally be expected. This screening process aims to identify other means of treatment which could be more effective for particular patients – in a similar way to how antibiotics are prescribed.
The project will essentially provide treatment plans which are more ‘personalised’ for each individual patient.
The work is being overseen by Sarah Danson, Professor of Medical Oncology at the University of Sheffield and Honorary Consultant in Medical Oncology at Weston Park Cancer Centre. Supporting Professor Danson is Dr Greg Wells, ex vivo project lead, who will carry out the ex vivo screening lab work.
The screening project will see a sample of a patient’s cancer tissue – which is made up of cancer, healthy and immune cells – tested on a drug plate outside of a patient’s body. The drug plate can contain tens or hundreds of different chemotherapy drugs and new, more personalised drugs, in different amounts and combinations.
The effectiveness of each treatment is then assessed by measuring how many healthy and cancerous cells are still alive.
Currently, the project is recruiting 34 patients with muscle-invasive bladder cancer – the most aggressive form of bladder cancer – and 50 patients with glioblastoma – the most common serious brain tumour.
The project team will carry out screening of tissue samples taken from these patients, while they receive standard of care treatment as decided by conventional means. This is to measure how good the test is, so the patient’s response to treatment will be compared with the test result.
Part of our grant will also fund:
- The cost of an early phase research nurse, employed by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals at Weston Park Cancer Centre’s Cancer Clinical Trials Centre (CCTC) for three years. The research nurse will play a vital role including design, set-up and patient recruitment to EVIDENT
- A University of Sheffield research technician – also funded for two years by Weston Park Cancer Charity – will carry out the ex vivo screening lab work.
- The grant also covers the cost of consumables such as drug plates, stains to analyse cell growth and microscope costs.
Professor Sarah Danson said:
“The thing about this is that we’re trying to make it a quick method. We want a rapid turnaround time and for this to be able to guide us in allocating the best possible treatment for our patients.
“We’re aiming for this to be applicable to all cancers. If you’ve got a common cancer, you’ve currently got lots of treatment options, but if you’ve got a rare cancer, you may not have the same options, or you may have to travel to a different treatment centre.
“Of course, we couldn’t do what we do without the backing of Weston Park Cancer Charity. The charity has helped us achieve so much in recent decades – by funding research like this, its supporters help us change outcomes for cancer patients in the future.
“This is like having a pharmacy on a plate. We’ll put different drugs in it, with patient’s cells – both cancerous and healthy – and see how they react to treatment.
“This means we will be able to see how a patient will respond before treatment, in a not too dissimilar way to how we choose antibiotics. By doing this, we hope we can avoid drugs that won’t work, improve patient experience, and ultimately improve outcomes, too.”
Dr Greg Wells hopes that this project will have global impact.
“It’s hopefully something which would be available for all patients, worldwide,” said Greg.
“Personalised medicine has dominated cancer research for the last 20 years, but only a subset of patients are eligible. We want this project to greatly increase the numbers of patients eligible, so everyone gets the best possible treatment for their individual cancer.
“Whilst ex vivo testing was designed to see if the patient will respond to therapy, before they actually undergo treatment, it also tells us if the patient will not respond to a treatment, saving valuable time for the patient and healthcare professionals.
“Sheffield is the perfect place for us to undertake this research, we have Weston Park Cancer Centre and the Charity, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, and the University of Sheffield all next to each other. This means the clinicians, scientists, nurses, and patients can all work together to start to make an impact on cancer.”
“We’ve started off with cancers where there is an existing pathway and existing links where treatment options haven’t really changed over the last 30 years, but the aim is to roll this out further after that. Ideally, we want to use this for every cancer.”
Emma Clarke, Chief Executive Officer at Weston Park Cancer Charity, said: “There’s no doubt at all that Covid-19 has had an impact on cancer research, but enabling projects like this will be crucial to aid research recovery.
“This particular project is extremely exciting; its impact could be felt globally.
“We’ve been proud to enable research for more than 20 years by funding projects like this and supporting Weston Park’s Cancer Clinical Trials Centre (CCTC) to ensure that cancer patients in our region can access cutting edge treatment and care.
“Sadly, one in two people will now be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetimes, and we need to ensure that those people get the best possible treatment and care. We will do that by supporting our amazing researchers here in Sheffield to carry out ground-breaking research and work to ensure that treatments developed here become the standard of care worldwide.”
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