National Physical Laboratory

Building a 'Google Earth' of cancer

The Grand Challenge, a new Cancer Research UK initiative, aims to overcome the biggest challenges facing cancer researchers in a global effort to beat cancer sooner.

In the same way cartographers build maps of cities, countries and the world to help people get around, scientists build maps of tumours to better understand their inner workings in the hope it will lead to new ways to diagnose and treat cancer.

But when you set out to explore uncharted territory, you never know what you're going to find. Until now, scientists have had to know what it is they're looking for in a tumour, before they can start looking for it.

We need an entirely new approach that allows us to see the unexpected, if we're to build a complete picture of cancer.

Through this Grand Challenge project, NPL's Dr Josephine Bunch and her team of chemists, physicists and biologists want to do exactly this. Using their expertise they aim to develop a reproducible, standardised way to fully map different tumours in unprecedented detail.

Thanks to Grand Challenge, we've been able to build a collective force of physicists, chemists and biologists - all coming together for the first time to map cancer in unprecedented detail. Our goal is to find out how tumours survive and why they keep growing. By applying our powerful analysis techniques to this problem, we want to gain new insight into these fundamental processes and develop new and better ways to diagnose and treat cancer."

Dr Josephine Bunch
Lead Investigator, NPL

The Impact

The team's novel approach to studying and mapping the entire molecular make-up of tumours could lead to the development of new ways to diagnose and treat cancer. It could also help inform and improve the testing of existing treatments and potentially improve them.

Ultimately, it could help more people survive cancer for longer.

The team

Joining in with the challenge

Questions on Reddit IAmA, 12 April 2017
Speaking at Hay Festival, 2 June 2017
Build your own mass spectrometry image at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, 3-9 July 2017

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