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
Funded through Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge scheme, NPL's Professor Josephine Bunch leads a group of international and multidisciplinary chemists, physicists and biologists from the UK to develop a reproducible, standardised way to fully map tumours with extraordinary precision.
Now at the end of its first year, this ground-breaking project has progressed with impressive speed and achieved some remarkable results. These advancements are set to transform our understanding of cancer and open the door to new and better ways to diagnose and treat the disease.
The world's first 'Rosetta Stone' of cancer cell metabolism
In the same way cartographers build maps of cities and countries to help people get around, scientists build maps of tumours to better understand their inner workings. But despite significant advances in technology and our understanding of cancer, our tumour maps remain incomplete. What's missing is our ability to see down to the very core of cancer cells and understand how changes in their metabolism can impact their overall state and function within a tumour. No one has ever mapped tumours in this level of detail before – until now.
The 'Rosetta' team are focusing on breast, bowel and pancreatic tumours, as well as investigating an aggressive type of brain tumour. They are working to capture changes to these metabolites as tumours develop or respond to treatments while simultaneously recording information about the cell's exact location within the tumour.
Superimposing these data with maps revealing information about the underlying genetics of these cells will produce the world's first 'Rosetta Stone' of cancer cell metabolism – a high-resolution metabolic map that offers unprecedented insight into a cell's biochemical state. This cutting-edge approach is generating vast amounts of data, which will be made freely available to the research community, providing a Google Earth-type view of a tumour, on a scale that we have never known before.
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