News Release

Groundbreaking research into cancer treatment receives financial boost

Groundbreaking research to track how cancers evolve and investigate what treatments work best, has received a £455,000 financial boost

Grant and Award Announcement

University of Leicester

Professor Jacqui Shaw


Professor Jacqui Shaw

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Credit: University of Leicester

Groundbreaking research to track how cancers evolve and investigate what treatments work best, has received a £455,000 financial boost.

The Samworth Foundation has donated funds, in honour of the late Sir David Samworth, to establish the three year Samworth Cancer Research Fellowship, and to pay for laboratory and equipment costs.

This investment by the foundation will allow the team to advance their research into cancer cells that have broken free from tumours and the DNA released by cancer cells into the bloodstream. Further investigation of these ‘liquid biopsies’ can reveal vital clues about the genetic makeup of the cancer.

Work is being led by Professor Jacqui Shaw, Head of the Department of Genetics and Genome Biology and Professor of Translational Cancer Genetics at the University, and Professors David Lloyd and Miles Levy, senior colleagues at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust. The team hopes their research will predict how the cancer is changing and which treatment is likely to work for individual patients.

Previous research has primarily investigated breast and lung cancers, but now the team will also look at patients with thyroid cancer, neuroendocrine tumours and other endocrine malignancies, all of whom are treated in Leicester. In addition, it also plans to study cancers of unknown origin, an increasing problem in clinical practice.

Professor Shaw said: “All cancers behave differently. We know from our previous work that blood tests can help detect and monitor cancer. Funding from the Samworth Foundation will help us investigate other markers in the blood that may tell us about the cell of origin of the cancer within the body and therefore whether it is coming from breast, lung cancer or another type of cancer and the immune response to this. This is all made possible by a simple blood test, from which we can recover cancer cells and the DNA they shed into blood.  Current methods are extremely sensitive and we can detect a signal of cancer through just a couple of teaspoons of blood.

“We also know that through liquid biopsy tests we can determine whether the cancer is likely to come back up to three years ahead of scans. The earlier we are able to pick up cancer recurrence, the earlier we may be able to treat the cancer - hopefully at a time before it’s had the chance to spread further.”

A recent clinical study in women with breast cancer patients showed that 30 of 34 women who had their cancer return, tested positive through a liquid biopsy test.

Professor Shaw added: “At the moment diabetes is monitored by regular tests to manage the disease and ensure effective treatment, why can’t we do the same for cancer? These liquid biopsies could enable us to do just that, so I’m very excited to be able to continue our important work with Miles and David thanks to the generous support from the Samworth Foundation.”

Research will look at samples from up to 100 patients over a three year period.

The Samworth Foundation was established in 1973. Thanks to the Samworth family and donations from Samworth Brothers Limited, it now gives around £4 million a year to charitable work in the UK and beyond.

Nathalie Walters, Director of the Samworth Foundation said: “We are delighted to honour the memory of our joint founder, Sir David Samworth, with this grant. We hope it will help the University of Leicester drive forward work on liquid biopsies for future cancer diagnosis and treatment.”

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