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Breakthrough cancer cell study will 'ultimately save lives', QUB researchers say

Researchers say the findings of the new study could lead to new ways to stop cancer cells in their tracks
Seanín Graham

NEW research aimed at tackling cancers resistant to standard treatments has been hailed a 'breakthrough' by a team at Queen's University Belfast.

A DNA analysis of 700 different cancer cell types found thousands of thousands of 'Achille's Heels' or 'cancer vulnerabilities'.

Researchers say the findings could lead to new ways to stop cancer cells in their tracks by using existing drugs as well as proposing new targets for drug development.

Central to the study was the creation of a computer programme called ‘MultiSEp’ that analyses large and complex datasets.

Dr Ian Overton, senior lecturer from the Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research (PGJCCR) at Queen's University, said he hoped their work will "ultimately save lives".

"Understanding the molecular fingerprints of cancer can pinpoint ways to target drugs precisely to those patients where they will be most effective. Our work makes a step towards more effective and personalised cancer treatments," he said.

"We make our results available on the ‘Synthetic Lethality with Genetics and Genomics’ web server, opening a window to share these rich resources with researchers across the scientific community - in order to accelerate progress in cancer research globally."

Dr Overton said that cancers usually have many mutations which can cause genetic weak spots to stop some protective genes called tumour suppressors - leaving the tumour reliant upon a back-up gene.

Hitting the back-up gene with a 'chemical hammer' can therefore kill the cancer cells, he added.

The new research has identified thousands of back-up genes in more than 700 different kinds of cancer cell types, providing the intelligence to design more effective treatments in the war against cancer.

Dr Simon McDade, senior lecturer from the PGJCCR at Queen's University, added: "This research represents an important resource for researchers worldwide to extract invaluable data from functional genomics screens, that has potential to translate to significant benefits for cancer patients in the long term, but also, for researchers around the world to easily and more efficiently analyse genetic data."

The research was performed in collaboration between the Overton and McDade groups in the Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research at Queen’s University Belfast, Almac Discovery and the Department of Biochemistry and Vanderbilt University, USA.


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