UCL advances on cancer

UCL is approaching the study, treatment and management of cancer from all angles. Meet the experts who are leading the way

Cancer Feature Header 825X450 2

This article first appeared in issue 8 of Portico magazine, published November 2021.

Professor Mark Emberton explains the scope and scale of UCL’s pioneering work on cancer

There are more than 200 types of cancer, each diagnosed and handled differently. We treat almost every form at UCL. Researchers across faculties and departments are collaborating and applying their skills to this complex problem. We take a broad, holistic approach that, when paired with our targeted disease and treatment expertise, gives UCL considerable scope for impact.

Hospital partnerships are key to our success; through them, we can access large cohorts of patients, allowing us to do fantastic research at volume. And the patient population is very diverse – University College London Hospital (UCLH) has Europe’s largest hematology cancer centre; the Royal Free is the biggest for renal cancer; and Great Ormond Street, Royal National Orthopedic Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital treat some of the most serious cases in the UK.

Our goal is to offer a trial to every single cancer patient. My own area is prostate cancer, and in my clinic, whatever stage of disease you’re at, we have a clinical trial that you could be recruited to. This means patients can access the latest treatment and also allows us to maximise our learning from each case. Professor Shonit Punwani and his team have developed a new way to see cancer that is a variation on the standard MRI, called luminal water fraction (LWF) imaging. It is much quicker than standard MRI and, possibly, more accurate. Clinical studies are underway. Such innovations can only be achieved by working with colleagues in teaching hospitals, conducting trials at pace and at scale, and, of course, with patients, our most important partners.

This article first appeared in issue 8 of Portico magazine, published November 2021.

Professor Mark Emberton explains the scope and scale of UCL’s pioneering work on cancer

There are more than 200 types of cancer, each diagnosed and handled differently. We treat almost every form at UCL. Researchers across faculties and departments are collaborating and applying their skills to this complex problem. We take a broad, holistic approach that, when paired with our targeted disease and treatment expertise, gives UCL considerable scope for impact.

Hospital partnerships are key to our success; through them, we can access large cohorts of patients, allowing us to do fantastic research at volume. And the patient population is very diverse – University College London Hospital (UCLH) has Europe’s largest hematology cancer centre; the Royal Free is the biggest for renal cancer; and Great Ormond Street, Royal National Orthopedic Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital treat some of the most serious cases in the UK.

Our goal is to offer a trial to every single cancer patient. My own area is prostate cancer, and in my clinic, whatever stage of disease you’re at, we have a clinical trial that you could be recruited to. This means patients can access the latest treatment and also allows us to maximise our learning from each case. Professor Shonit Punwani and his team have developed a new way to see cancer that is a variation on the standard MRI, called luminal water fraction (LWF) imaging. It is much quicker than standard MRI and, possibly, more accurate. Clinical studies are underway. Such innovations can only be achieved by working with colleagues in teaching hospitals, conducting trials at pace and at scale, and, of course, with patients, our most important partners.

This article first appeared in issue 8 of Portico magazine, published November 2021.

Professor Mark Emberton explains the scope and scale of UCL’s pioneering work on cancer

There are more than 200 types of cancer, each diagnosed and handled differently. We treat almost every form at UCL. Researchers across faculties and departments are collaborating and applying their skills to this complex problem. We take a broad, holistic approach that, when paired with our targeted disease and treatment expertise, gives UCL considerable scope for impact.

Hospital partnerships are key to our success; through them, we can access large cohorts of patients, allowing us to do fantastic research at volume. And the patient population is very diverse – University College London Hospital (UCLH) has Europe’s largest hematology cancer centre; the Royal Free is the biggest for renal cancer; and Great Ormond Street, Royal National Orthopedic Hospital and Moorfields Eye Hospital treat some of the most serious cases in the UK.

Our goal is to offer a trial to every single cancer patient. My own area is prostate cancer, and in my clinic, whatever stage of disease you’re at, we have a clinical trial that you could be recruited to. This means patients can access the latest treatment and also allows us to maximise our learning from each case. Professor Shonit Punwani and his team have developed a new way to see cancer that is a variation on the standard MRI, called luminal water fraction (LWF) imaging. It is much quicker than standard MRI and, possibly, more accurate. Clinical studies are underway. Such innovations can only be achieved by working with colleagues in teaching hospitals, conducting trials at pace and at scale, and, of course, with patients, our most important partners.

Know The Science 1

UCL is the largest grant-holder from Cancer Research UK. Smaller research charities play a vital role in our work, too. They fund the early high-risk (but, hopefully, high-reward) studies, allowing us to provide vital evidence that a new approach is sound, opening the door to further investment from major funders. Philanthropic support is also incredibly important; my first MRI study, many years ago, was funded by a £40,000 grant from Sir Peter Michael CBE, through his Pelican Cancer Foundation. Our donors often have a direct relationship with the work they’re supporting; in many cases, giving directly to UCL allows donors to see the real impact of their giving.

UCL is the largest grant-holder from Cancer Research UK. Smaller research charities play a vital role in our work, too. They fund the early high-risk (but, hopefully, high-reward) studies, allowing us to provide vital evidence that a new approach is sound, opening the door to further investment from major funders. Philanthropic support is also incredibly important; my first MRI study, many years ago, was funded by a £40,000 grant from Sir Peter Michael CBE, through his Pelican Cancer Foundation. Our donors often have a direct relationship with the work they’re supporting; in many cases, giving directly to UCL allows donors to see the real impact of their giving.

UCL is the largest grant-holder from Cancer Research UK. Smaller research charities play a vital role in our work, too. They fund the early high-risk (but, hopefully, high-reward) studies, allowing us to provide vital evidence that a new approach is sound, opening the door to further investment from major funders. Philanthropic support is also incredibly important; my first MRI study, many years ago, was funded by a £40,000 grant from Sir Peter Michael CBE, through his Pelican Cancer Foundation. Our donors often have a direct relationship with the work they’re supporting; in many cases, giving directly to UCL allows donors to see the real impact of their giving.

The next step in UCL’s fight against cancer is creating a facility where we can semi-industrialise many of the biological therapies that we’re currently creating. These aren’t tablets, they are live treatments. We take your cells at the hospital, treat them and give them back to you so they can kill your cancer. It’s a very hands-on process, and we need to find ways to mechanise and scale up. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to truly revolutionise cancer treatment.

Mark Emberton is Dean of the UCL Faculty of Medical Sciences, Professor of Interventional Oncology at UCL and Honorary Consultant Urologist at University College Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Understanding cancer

How do cancer cells travel around the brain? Professor Simona Parrinello shares important discoveries that could extend patients’ lives

Each year, around 2,200 people in the UK are diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive brain tumour in adults. It is one of the hardest cancers to treat because the cancer cells invade tissue well beyond the area that can be removed by surgery and those cells will go on and form another tumour.

Due to its lack of treatment options and poor patient prognosis, improving the quality and quantity of research in this area is essential. UCL is striving to increase understanding of the disease and explore new avenues for diagnosis and treatment.

My team is trying to understand how normal cells become cancer cells, how a tumour may initiate or originate from these normal cells and how cell mechanisms are distorted in the tumour itself. We mostly work with mice, which are incredibly valuable. We isolate cells from both normal and tumour tissue. Using a process called intravital imaging, we can track the same cell for days or even months as it moves around the live brain, viewing it via a special two-photon microscope. We also take brain sections from mice to look at how different cells talk to each other. Material from patients, collected at diagnosis, is also used to look at specific genes or proteins that we’re interested in, to see whether they reflect the behaviours we have seen in mouse models.

The next step in UCL’s fight against cancer is creating a facility where we can semi-industrialise many of the biological therapies that we’re currently creating. These aren’t tablets, they are live treatments. We take your cells at the hospital, treat them and give them back to you so they can kill your cancer. It’s a very hands-on process, and we need to find ways to mechanise and scale up. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to truly revolutionise cancer treatment.

Mark Emberton is Dean of the UCL Faculty of Medical Sciences, Professor of Interventional Oncology at UCL and Honorary Consultant Urologist at University College Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Understanding cancer

How do cancer cells travel around the brain? Professor Simona Parrinello shares important discoveries that could extend patients’ lives

Each year, around 2,200 people in the UK are diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive brain tumour in adults. It is one of the hardest cancers to treat because the cancer cells invade tissue well beyond the area that can be removed by surgery and those cells will go on and form another tumour.

Due to its lack of treatment options and poor patient prognosis, improving the quality and quantity of research in this area is essential. UCL is striving to increase understanding of the disease and explore new avenues for diagnosis and treatment.

My team is trying to understand how normal cells become cancer cells, how a tumour may initiate or originate from these normal cells and how cell mechanisms are distorted in the tumour itself. We mostly work with mice, which are incredibly valuable. We isolate cells from both normal and tumour tissue. Using a process called intravital imaging, we can track the same cell for days or even months as it moves around the live brain, viewing it via a special two-photon microscope. We also take brain sections from mice to look at how different cells talk to each other. Material from patients, collected at diagnosis, is also used to look at specific genes or proteins that we’re interested in, to see whether they reflect the behaviours we have seen in mouse models.

The next step in UCL’s fight against cancer is creating a facility where we can semi-industrialise many of the biological therapies that we’re currently creating. These aren’t tablets, they are live treatments. We take your cells at the hospital, treat them and give them back to you so they can kill your cancer. It’s a very hands-on process, and we need to find ways to mechanise and scale up. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to truly revolutionise cancer treatment.

Mark Emberton is Dean of the UCL Faculty of Medical Sciences, Professor of Interventional Oncology at UCL and Honorary Consultant Urologist at University College Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Understanding cancer

How do cancer cells travel around the brain? Professor Simona Parrinello shares important discoveries that could extend patients’ lives

Each year, around 2,200 people in the UK are diagnosed with glioblastoma, the most common and aggressive brain tumour in adults. It is one of the hardest cancers to treat because the cancer cells invade tissue well beyond the area that can be removed by surgery and those cells will go on and form another tumour.

Due to its lack of treatment options and poor patient prognosis, improving the quality and quantity of research in this area is essential. UCL is striving to increase understanding of the disease and explore new avenues for diagnosis and treatment.

My team is trying to understand how normal cells become cancer cells, how a tumour may initiate or originate from these normal cells and how cell mechanisms are distorted in the tumour itself. We mostly work with mice, which are incredibly valuable. We isolate cells from both normal and tumour tissue. Using a process called intravital imaging, we can track the same cell for days or even months as it moves around the live brain, viewing it via a special two-photon microscope. We also take brain sections from mice to look at how different cells talk to each other. Material from patients, collected at diagnosis, is also used to look at specific genes or proteins that we’re interested in, to see whether they reflect the behaviours we have seen in mouse models.

“When cancer cells spread to white matter, they try to heal the damage they have caused”
“When cancer cells spread to white matter, they try to heal the damage they have caused”
“When cancer cells spread to white matter, they try to heal the damage they have caused”

In a recent study, we found that EphrinB2 is an important molecule that allows the cells to move along the blood vessels of the brain, which the tumour often uses as roads. If we can block this molecule pharmacologically, that can reduce the tumour’s spread. We know that cancer cells also use white matter – a bundle of cables that criss-cross the whole brain – to travel around. This is under-researched because it’s difficult to take samples from these areas without affecting their function.

Using mouse models, we have discovered a complex phenomenon whereby when the cancer cells spread to the white matter, they begin trying to heal the damage they have caused. Somehow, this micro-environment talks back to the cancer cells, reminding them that they are essentially like a normal stem cell whose function is to repair lost cells. The cancer cells remember this and try to repair the damage they have done, which consequently slows down the growth of the tumour. We are trying to encourage the process with drugs, and so far have identified Pranlukast, an asthma treatment that is used in Japan, as having some efficacy in the mouse model. The fact that it’s already medically approved makes it easier for us to test further. We published a paper in May 2021 and now we are doing a screen to see if we can identify more drugs that will promote this effect.

In a recent study, we found that EphrinB2 is an important molecule that allows the cells to move along the blood vessels of the brain, which the tumour often uses as roads. If we can block this molecule pharmacologically, that can reduce the tumour’s spread. We know that cancer cells also use white matter – a bundle of cables that criss-cross the whole brain – to travel around. This is under-researched because it’s difficult to take samples from these areas without affecting their function.

Using mouse models, we have discovered a complex phenomenon whereby when the cancer cells spread to the white matter, they begin trying to heal the damage they have caused. Somehow, this micro-environment talks back to the cancer cells, reminding them that they are essentially like a normal stem cell whose function is to repair lost cells. The cancer cells remember this and try to repair the damage they have done, which consequently slows down the growth of the tumour. We are trying to encourage the process with drugs, and so far have identified Pranlukast, an asthma treatment that is used in Japan, as having some efficacy in the mouse model. The fact that it’s already medically approved makes it easier for us to test further. We published a paper in May 2021 and now we are doing a screen to see if we can identify more drugs that will promote this effect.

In a recent study, we found that EphrinB2 is an important molecule that allows the cells to move along the blood vessels of the brain, which the tumour often uses as roads. If we can block this molecule pharmacologically, that can reduce the tumour’s spread. We know that cancer cells also use white matter – a bundle of cables that criss-cross the whole brain – to travel around. This is under-researched because it’s difficult to take samples from these areas without affecting their function.

Using mouse models, we have discovered a complex phenomenon whereby when the cancer cells spread to the white matter, they begin trying to heal the damage they have caused. Somehow, this micro-environment talks back to the cancer cells, reminding them that they are essentially like a normal stem cell whose function is to repair lost cells. The cancer cells remember this and try to repair the damage they have done, which consequently slows down the growth of the tumour. We are trying to encourage the process with drugs, and so far have identified Pranlukast, an asthma treatment that is used in Japan, as having some efficacy in the mouse model. The fact that it’s already medically approved makes it easier for us to test further. We published a paper in May 2021 and now we are doing a screen to see if we can identify more drugs that will promote this effect.

The idea that you could stop a tumour in its tracks and make it less aggressive – especially with a compound that already exists – is really important, because you would improve the survival of glioblastoma patients, whose current life expectancy is less than 18 months from diagnosis. Combined with surgery to get rid of as many cancer cells as you can, this treatment could keep the remaining cells in a non-malignant state, buying the patient a longer life.

Simona Parrinello is Professor of Neuro-oncology and Co-lead of the UCL Cancer Research UK Brain Tumour Centre of Excellence.

The idea that you could stop a tumour in its tracks and make it less aggressive – especially with a compound that already exists – is really important, because you would improve the survival of glioblastoma patients, whose current life expectancy is less than 18 months from diagnosis. Combined with surgery to get rid of as many cancer cells as you can, this treatment could keep the remaining cells in a non-malignant state, buying the patient a longer life.

Simona Parrinello is Professor of Neuro-oncology and Co-lead of the UCL Cancer Research UK Brain Tumour Centre of Excellence.

The idea that you could stop a tumour in its tracks and make it less aggressive – especially with a compound that already exists – is really important, because you would improve the survival of glioblastoma patients, whose current life expectancy is less than 18 months from diagnosis. Combined with surgery to get rid of as many cancer cells as you can, this treatment could keep the remaining cells in a non-malignant state, buying the patient a longer life.

Simona Parrinello is Professor of Neuro-oncology and Co-lead of the UCL Cancer Research UK Brain Tumour Centre of Excellence.

Cancer Illo2

Treating cancer

Professor Sergio Quezada explains the importance of immunotherapy in the fight against cancer and reveals the 10-year journey to his lab’s big breakthrough

A cancer tumour is packed with immune cells designed to fight back. Tumour immunotherapy aims to understand which immune cells are the players in that micro-environment, what the cells are intending to do and why they are they failing. Once we understand which of the players are not performing, we find tools to enhance their performance or switch them for stronger cells. This is how immunotherapy modifies the immune system so that the immune system can then eliminate the cancer. In the past decade, there has been an explosion of immunotherapy trials across different cancers, because the one thing cancers have in common is an immune system that is trying to eliminate them.

The immune system is extremely dangerous – unleash it without control and you can end up dead. Autoimmunity occurs because the immune system fails to restrain itself. This restraint is a delicate balance between forces that effect a change and forces that regulate that effect, hence why we call them effector cells and regulatory cells. If you have a viral infection, effector cells need to fight it, but the regulatory cells also need to tell the effectors when to stop. A cancer tumour takes advantage of this situation by recruiting the regulatory cells to tell the effectors that there is nothing wrong for them to fix.

Treating cancer

Professor Sergio Quezada explains the importance of immunotherapy in the fight against cancer and reveals the 10-year journey to his lab’s big breakthrough

A cancer tumour is packed with immune cells designed to fight back. Tumour immunotherapy aims to understand which immune cells are the players in that micro-environment, what the cells are intending to do and why they are they failing. Once we understand which of the players are not performing, we find tools to enhance their performance or switch them for stronger cells. This is how immunotherapy modifies the immune system so that the immune system can then eliminate the cancer. In the past decade, there has been an explosion of immunotherapy trials across different cancers, because the one thing cancers have in common is an immune system that is trying to eliminate them.

The immune system is extremely dangerous – unleash it without control and you can end up dead. Autoimmunity occurs because the immune system fails to restrain itself. This restraint is a delicate balance between forces that effect a change and forces that regulate that effect, hence why we call them effector cells and regulatory cells. If you have a viral infection, effector cells need to fight it, but the regulatory cells also need to tell the effectors when to stop. A cancer tumour takes advantage of this situation by recruiting the regulatory cells to tell the effectors that there is nothing wrong for them to fix.

Treating cancer

Professor Sergio Quezada explains the importance of immunotherapy in the fight against cancer and reveals the 10-year journey to his lab’s big breakthrough

A cancer tumour is packed with immune cells designed to fight back. Tumour immunotherapy aims to understand which immune cells are the players in that micro-environment, what the cells are intending to do and why they are they failing. Once we understand which of the players are not performing, we find tools to enhance their performance or switch them for stronger cells. This is how immunotherapy modifies the immune system so that the immune system can then eliminate the cancer. In the past decade, there has been an explosion of immunotherapy trials across different cancers, because the one thing cancers have in common is an immune system that is trying to eliminate them.

The immune system is extremely dangerous – unleash it without control and you can end up dead. Autoimmunity occurs because the immune system fails to restrain itself. This restraint is a delicate balance between forces that effect a change and forces that regulate that effect, hence why we call them effector cells and regulatory cells. If you have a viral infection, effector cells need to fight it, but the regulatory cells also need to tell the effectors when to stop. A cancer tumour takes advantage of this situation by recruiting the regulatory cells to tell the effectors that there is nothing wrong for them to fix.

Previously, scientists realised that the molecule CD25 is behind this suppressing effect, as it is found in high levels on the surface of regulatory cells. However, traces of it can also be found on effectors, so generating a CD25 antibody hit both types of cells and achieved nothing. I first worked on this antibody when I was a PhD student studying autoimmunity. The work was unrelated, but I learned a couple of things that would come into play in my later work. Then, towards the end of my post-doctorate, I worked on CD25 in relation to cancer, but it was only after starting my lab at UCL that my team eventually found an anti-CD25 antibody that would selectively deplete regulatory cells and liberate the effectors to attack the cancer tumour. It was the result of 10 years of research.

Previously, scientists realised that the molecule CD25 is behind this suppressing effect, as it is found in high levels on the surface of regulatory cells. However, traces of it can also be found on effectors, so generating a CD25 antibody hit both types of cells and achieved nothing. I first worked on this antibody when I was a PhD student studying autoimmunity. The work was unrelated, but I learned a couple of things that would come into play in my later work. Then, towards the end of my post-doctorate, I worked on CD25 in relation to cancer, but it was only after starting my lab at UCL that my team eventually found an anti-CD25 antibody that would selectively deplete regulatory cells and liberate the effectors to attack the cancer tumour. It was the result of 10 years of research.

Previously, scientists realised that the molecule CD25 is behind this suppressing effect, as it is found in high levels on the surface of regulatory cells. However, traces of it can also be found on effectors, so generating a CD25 antibody hit both types of cells and achieved nothing. I first worked on this antibody when I was a PhD student studying autoimmunity. The work was unrelated, but I learned a couple of things that would come into play in my later work. Then, towards the end of my post-doctorate, I worked on CD25 in relation to cancer, but it was only after starting my lab at UCL that my team eventually found an anti-CD25 antibody that would selectively deplete regulatory cells and liberate the effectors to attack the cancer tumour. It was the result of 10 years of research.

Illustration of a drop of blood

Pharmaceutical company Roche is now developing a drug based on our discovery. A phase one trial is testing the anti-CD25 antibody on different tumour types, from skin to lung cancers, and a second trial is combining our antibody with another immunotherapy treatment. In tumours that have a very active fight between effector and regulatory cells, I think this antibody could have an impact as a single drug. With patients who are receiving radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other immunotherapies, we will want this new antibody in our arsenal because it will help to facilitate the fight of the effectors while controlling the regulatory cells that are trying to shut them down. If it’s successful, I believe this antibody could help thousands of people.

Professor Sergio Quezada is Group Leader of the Immune Regulation and Tumour Immunotherapy Group at the UCL Cancer Institute.

Cancer technology

Discover three ways that UCL’s experts are using and developing technology to tackle cancer
The SUMMIT Study

Lung cancer is responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other cancer. Evidence from large studies has shown that Low Dose CT (LDCT) screening in asymptomatic people at risk of lung cancer reduces lung cancer mortality by 20%, because it detects it at an early stage, when more successful and often curative treatments can be given.

Professor Sam Janes’s team at UCL’s Lungs for Living Research Centre is collaborating with UCLH and American biotech firm GRAIL Inc to deliver a LDCT scan for lung cancer and evaluate the performance of a blood test to detect it.

CT screening uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of specific organs or tissues. LDCT uses up to 90% less radiation than a standard CT scan yet is accurate enough to detect even small abnormalities. Working with a high-risk population in London and the surrounding areas, Professor Janes’s team is conducting these screenings using a new CT scanner in the Lung Health Check Centre at the Capper Street mobile clinic.
Discover more about The SUMMIT Study

Proton beam therapy

Proton beam therapy is a type of radiotherapy that uses high-energy beams of protons to target and kill cancer cells. One of its key advantages is that the beams stop once they hit target tissues, limiting the damage to surrounding tissue. This makes it well suited to the treatment of cancers in challenging locations and when it is particularly important to avoid damage to surrounding tissue – for example, brain tumours in children.

At a new treatment centre at UCLH, one of just two NHS centres in the UK, a team of scientists led by Professor Gary Royle in UCL Engineering are working on a range of sophisticated technological, computational and clinical techniques to maximise effectiveness of the treatments. One particular challenge the team is addressing is the need to adjust the delivery of radiation to reflect the changes that occur in the patient both during and between treatment sessions. Team members are also working with partner hospitals to optimise use of new imaging technology for planning patient treatments more precisely and monitoring their effectiveness.
Discover more about proton beam therapy

Pharmaceutical company Roche is now developing a drug based on our discovery. A phase one trial is testing the anti-CD25 antibody on different tumour types, from skin to lung cancers, and a second trial is combining our antibody with another immunotherapy treatment. In tumours that have a very active fight between effector and regulatory cells, I think this antibody could have an impact as a single drug. With patients who are receiving radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other immunotherapies, we will want this new antibody in our arsenal because it will help to facilitate the fight of the effectors while controlling the regulatory cells that are trying to shut them down. If it’s successful, I believe this antibody could help thousands of people.

Professor Sergio Quezada is Group Leader of the Immune Regulation and Tumour Immunotherapy Group at the UCL Cancer Institute.

Cancer technology

Discover three ways that UCL’s experts are using and developing technology to tackle cancer
The SUMMIT Study

Lung cancer is responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other cancer. Evidence from large studies has shown that Low Dose CT (LDCT) screening in asymptomatic people at risk of lung cancer reduces lung cancer mortality by 20%, because it detects it at an early stage, when more successful and often curative treatments can be given.

Professor Sam Janes’s team at UCL’s Lungs for Living Research Centre is collaborating with UCLH and American biotech firm GRAIL Inc to deliver a LDCT scan for lung cancer and evaluate the performance of a blood test to detect it.

CT screening uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of specific organs or tissues. LDCT uses up to 90% less radiation than a standard CT scan yet is accurate enough to detect even small abnormalities. Working with a high-risk population in London and the surrounding areas, Professor Janes’s team is conducting these screenings using a new CT scanner in the Lung Health Check Centre at the Capper Street mobile clinic.
Discover more about The SUMMIT Study

Proton beam therapy

Proton beam therapy is a type of radiotherapy that uses high-energy beams of protons to target and kill cancer cells. One of its key advantages is that the beams stop once they hit target tissues, limiting the damage to surrounding tissue. This makes it well suited to the treatment of cancers in challenging locations and when it is particularly important to avoid damage to surrounding tissue – for example, brain tumours in children.

At a new treatment centre at UCLH, one of just two NHS centres in the UK, a team of scientists led by Professor Gary Royle in UCL Engineering are working on a range of sophisticated technological, computational and clinical techniques to maximise effectiveness of the treatments. One particular challenge the team is addressing is the need to adjust the delivery of radiation to reflect the changes that occur in the patient both during and between treatment sessions. Team members are also working with partner hospitals to optimise use of new imaging technology for planning patient treatments more precisely and monitoring their effectiveness.
Discover more about proton beam therapy

Pharmaceutical company Roche is now developing a drug based on our discovery. A phase one trial is testing the anti-CD25 antibody on different tumour types, from skin to lung cancers, and a second trial is combining our antibody with another immunotherapy treatment. In tumours that have a very active fight between effector and regulatory cells, I think this antibody could have an impact as a single drug. With patients who are receiving radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other immunotherapies, we will want this new antibody in our arsenal because it will help to facilitate the fight of the effectors while controlling the regulatory cells that are trying to shut them down. If it’s successful, I believe this antibody could help thousands of people.

Professor Sergio Quezada is Group Leader of the Immune Regulation and Tumour Immunotherapy Group at the UCL Cancer Institute.

Cancer technology

Discover three ways that UCL’s experts are using and developing technology to tackle cancer
The SUMMIT Study

Lung cancer is responsible for more deaths worldwide than any other cancer. Evidence from large studies has shown that Low Dose CT (LDCT) screening in asymptomatic people at risk of lung cancer reduces lung cancer mortality by 20%, because it detects it at an early stage, when more successful and often curative treatments can be given.

Professor Sam Janes’s team at UCL’s Lungs for Living Research Centre is collaborating with UCLH and American biotech firm GRAIL Inc to deliver a LDCT scan for lung cancer and evaluate the performance of a blood test to detect it.

CT screening uses X-rays and a computer to create detailed images of specific organs or tissues. LDCT uses up to 90% less radiation than a standard CT scan yet is accurate enough to detect even small abnormalities. Working with a high-risk population in London and the surrounding areas, Professor Janes’s team is conducting these screenings using a new CT scanner in the Lung Health Check Centre at the Capper Street mobile clinic.
Discover more about The SUMMIT Study

Proton beam therapy

Proton beam therapy is a type of radiotherapy that uses high-energy beams of protons to target and kill cancer cells. One of its key advantages is that the beams stop once they hit target tissues, limiting the damage to surrounding tissue. This makes it well suited to the treatment of cancers in challenging locations and when it is particularly important to avoid damage to surrounding tissue – for example, brain tumours in children.

At a new treatment centre at UCLH, one of just two NHS centres in the UK, a team of scientists led by Professor Gary Royle in UCL Engineering are working on a range of sophisticated technological, computational and clinical techniques to maximise effectiveness of the treatments. One particular challenge the team is addressing is the need to adjust the delivery of radiation to reflect the changes that occur in the patient both during and between treatment sessions. Team members are also working with partner hospitals to optimise use of new imaging technology for planning patient treatments more precisely and monitoring their effectiveness.
Discover more about proton beam therapy

lllustration of male figures with red targets going over them
CAR T-cell programme

Dr Martin Pule’s laboratory at the UCL Cancer Institute is pioneering groundbreaking cancer treatments that reprogramme a patient’s immune system to recognise and kill cancerous cells. CAR T-cell therapies are developed by harvesting T-cells, a type of lymphocyte, from a patient’s blood and genetically re-engineering them outside the body. This reprogramming is achieved by introducing a gene for an artificial protein called a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR for short. Using the body’s immune system to fight cancer avoids some of the side effects of conventional therapies, as non-cancerous cells are not targeted by the T-cells.

CAR T-cell programme

Dr Martin Pule’s laboratory at the UCL Cancer Institute is pioneering groundbreaking cancer treatments that reprogramme a patient’s immune system to recognise and kill cancerous cells. CAR T-cell therapies are developed by harvesting T-cells, a type of lymphocyte, from a patient’s blood and genetically re-engineering them outside the body. This reprogramming is achieved by introducing a gene for an artificial protein called a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR for short. Using the body’s immune system to fight cancer avoids some of the side effects of conventional therapies, as non-cancerous cells are not targeted by the T-cells.

CAR T-cell programme

Dr Martin Pule’s laboratory at the UCL Cancer Institute is pioneering groundbreaking cancer treatments that reprogramme a patient’s immune system to recognise and kill cancerous cells. CAR T-cell therapies are developed by harvesting T-cells, a type of lymphocyte, from a patient’s blood and genetically re-engineering them outside the body. This reprogramming is achieved by introducing a gene for an artificial protein called a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR for short. Using the body’s immune system to fight cancer avoids some of the side effects of conventional therapies, as non-cancerous cells are not targeted by the T-cells.

Dr Pule’s laboratory is leading the way in developing new CAR T-cell therapies, and UCL’s programme is the largest in Europe. The university ranks among the top in the world for the number of inventions and patent applications in relation to this work, which, for patients, can mean a less toxic way of treating their cancer.
Discover more about using immune cells to target cancer

Cancer in society

Dr Mariam Jamal-Hanjani explains the importance of cancer patients donating their bodies to research

It might sound morbid, but there is an awful lot that you can learn from death, and it’s thanks to the generosity of cancer patients who donate their bodies to research that we can better understand how cancer can lead to death.

The premise of the UK-wide Posthumous Evaluation of Advanced Cancer Environment (PEACE) study is that by accessing unprecedented amounts of tissue from all the metastatic sites (where a cancer has spread), as well as where it originated from, we can begin to understand how tumours evolve in time and in response to cancer therapies. Our study gives patients the opportunity to be part of cancer research long after their death. It’s incredibly altruistic – they cannot benefit themselves, but they are still willing to offer their body for research for the benefit of future patients. So far, we’ve recruited more than 320 participants across the UK and conducted over 160 autopsies. The study’s principal funder is Cancer Research UK and is led by Charles Swanton and me at the Francis Crick and UCL Cancer Institutes.

Dr Pule’s laboratory is leading the way in developing new CAR T-cell therapies, and UCL’s programme is the largest in Europe. The university ranks among the top in the world for the number of inventions and patent applications in relation to this work, which, for patients, can mean a less toxic way of treating their cancer.
Discover more about using immune cells to target cancer

Cancer in society

Dr Mariam Jamal-Hanjani explains the importance of cancer patients donating their bodies to research

It might sound morbid, but there is an awful lot that you can learn from death, and it’s thanks to the generosity of cancer patients who donate their bodies to research that we can better understand how cancer can lead to death.

The premise of the UK-wide Posthumous Evaluation of Advanced Cancer Environment (PEACE) study is that by accessing unprecedented amounts of tissue from all the metastatic sites (where a cancer has spread), as well as where it originated from, we can begin to understand how tumours evolve in time and in response to cancer therapies. Our study gives patients the opportunity to be part of cancer research long after their death. It’s incredibly altruistic – they cannot benefit themselves, but they are still willing to offer their body for research for the benefit of future patients. So far, we’ve recruited more than 320 participants across the UK and conducted over 160 autopsies. The study’s principal funder is Cancer Research UK and is led by Charles Swanton and me at the Francis Crick and UCL Cancer Institutes.

Dr Pule’s laboratory is leading the way in developing new CAR T-cell therapies, and UCL’s programme is the largest in Europe. The university ranks among the top in the world for the number of inventions and patent applications in relation to this work, which, for patients, can mean a less toxic way of treating their cancer.
Discover more about using immune cells to target cancer

Cancer in society

Dr Mariam Jamal-Hanjani explains the importance of cancer patients donating their bodies to research

It might sound morbid, but there is an awful lot that you can learn from death, and it’s thanks to the generosity of cancer patients who donate their bodies to research that we can better understand how cancer can lead to death.

The premise of the UK-wide Posthumous Evaluation of Advanced Cancer Environment (PEACE) study is that by accessing unprecedented amounts of tissue from all the metastatic sites (where a cancer has spread), as well as where it originated from, we can begin to understand how tumours evolve in time and in response to cancer therapies. Our study gives patients the opportunity to be part of cancer research long after their death. It’s incredibly altruistic – they cannot benefit themselves, but they are still willing to offer their body for research for the benefit of future patients. So far, we’ve recruited more than 320 participants across the UK and conducted over 160 autopsies. The study’s principal funder is Cancer Research UK and is led by Charles Swanton and me at the Francis Crick and UCL Cancer Institutes.

“Every patient is recruited with a specific question in mind so that we can deliver on our promise that each will contribute to cancer research”
“Every patient is recruited with a specific question in mind so that we can deliver on our promise that each will contribute to cancer research”
“Every patient is recruited with a specific question in mind so that we can deliver on our promise that each will contribute to cancer research”

As soon as possible after a patient’s death, we conduct an autopsy to collect tissue from multiple areas of the primary and metastatic tumours throughout the body, including normal, non-cancerous tissue. The study aims to understand how cancers can evolve and acquire the ability to spread to distant, metastatic sites; how cancer cells interact with their surrounding environment; and the mechanisms by which they develop drug resistance. By studying advanced cancers in this way, we have a unique opportunity to reveal the potential biological processes leading to death. We also collect blood samples while the patient is alive to study the behaviour of cancer and immune cells circulating in the blood.

Every patient is recruited with a specific question in mind so that we can deliver on our promise that each will contribute to cancer research. We want to fulfil the living wish of every patient and ensure that their legacy is their selfless contribution in helping future cancer patients.

Many patients will have been involved in other clinical studies, such as the TRACERx lung study, in which the primary tumour is analysed in great depth, and subsequent recruitment into PEACE allows us to study cancer from its early to late stages. We are beginning to see the different patterns in which cancers spread and the genetic changes that can occur as primary cancers evolve into metastatic tumours. We have also seen that we can identify some of these changes in blood samples collected in advance of death. These insights have the potential to impact how we monitor patients for cancer progression and help identify those who are likely to develop metastatic disease so that we can intervene early and hopefully improve their outlook.

Dr Mariam Jamal-Hanjani is Senior Clinical Lecturer, Group Leader and Honorary Consultant in Translational Lung Oncology at the CRUK Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence, UCL Cancer Institute.

Illustrations Vicki Turner

This article first appeared in issue 8 of Portico magazine, published November 2021.

 

As soon as possible after a patient’s death, we conduct an autopsy to collect tissue from multiple areas of the primary and metastatic tumours throughout the body, including normal, non-cancerous tissue. The study aims to understand how cancers can evolve and acquire the ability to spread to distant, metastatic sites; how cancer cells interact with their surrounding environment; and the mechanisms by which they develop drug resistance. By studying advanced cancers in this way, we have a unique opportunity to reveal the potential biological processes leading to death. We also collect blood samples while the patient is alive to study the behaviour of cancer and immune cells circulating in the blood.

Every patient is recruited with a specific question in mind so that we can deliver on our promise that each will contribute to cancer research. We want to fulfil the living wish of every patient and ensure that their legacy is their selfless contribution in helping future cancer patients.

Many patients will have been involved in other clinical studies, such as the TRACERx lung study, in which the primary tumour is analysed in great depth, and subsequent recruitment into PEACE allows us to study cancer from its early to late stages. We are beginning to see the different patterns in which cancers spread and the genetic changes that can occur as primary cancers evolve into metastatic tumours. We have also seen that we can identify some of these changes in blood samples collected in advance of death. These insights have the potential to impact how we monitor patients for cancer progression and help identify those who are likely to develop metastatic disease so that we can intervene early and hopefully improve their outlook.

Dr Mariam Jamal-Hanjani is Senior Clinical Lecturer, Group Leader and Honorary Consultant in Translational Lung Oncology at the CRUK Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence, UCL Cancer Institute.

Illustrations Vicki Turner

This article first appeared in issue 8 of Portico magazine, published November 2021.

 

As soon as possible after a patient’s death, we conduct an autopsy to collect tissue from multiple areas of the primary and metastatic tumours throughout the body, including normal, non-cancerous tissue. The study aims to understand how cancers can evolve and acquire the ability to spread to distant, metastatic sites; how cancer cells interact with their surrounding environment; and the mechanisms by which they develop drug resistance. By studying advanced cancers in this way, we have a unique opportunity to reveal the potential biological processes leading to death. We also collect blood samples while the patient is alive to study the behaviour of cancer and immune cells circulating in the blood.

Every patient is recruited with a specific question in mind so that we can deliver on our promise that each will contribute to cancer research. We want to fulfil the living wish of every patient and ensure that their legacy is their selfless contribution in helping future cancer patients.

Many patients will have been involved in other clinical studies, such as the TRACERx lung study, in which the primary tumour is analysed in great depth, and subsequent recruitment into PEACE allows us to study cancer from its early to late stages. We are beginning to see the different patterns in which cancers spread and the genetic changes that can occur as primary cancers evolve into metastatic tumours. We have also seen that we can identify some of these changes in blood samples collected in advance of death. These insights have the potential to impact how we monitor patients for cancer progression and help identify those who are likely to develop metastatic disease so that we can intervene early and hopefully improve their outlook.

Dr Mariam Jamal-Hanjani is Senior Clinical Lecturer, Group Leader and Honorary Consultant in Translational Lung Oncology at the CRUK Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence, UCL Cancer Institute.

Illustrations Vicki Turner

This article first appeared in issue 8 of Portico magazine, published November 2021.