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Steve Jackson member of multi-disciplinary team shortlisted for Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge

Two University of Cambridge scientists, Professor Steve Jackson of The Wellcome Trust/ Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute and Dr John Perry of the MRC Epidemiology Unit, are members of a multi-disciplinary team of scientists which has been shortlisted to the final stages of Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge -  an ambitious series of £20m global grants tackling some of the toughest questions in cancer research. The team also includes researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, The Francis Crick Institute, and the University of California, San Francisco, and is led by Professor Rong Li of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The Grand Challenge award aims to revolutionise how we diagnose, prevent and treat cancer by providing international multi-disciplinary teams the freedom to try novel approaches, at scale, in the pursuit of life changing discoveries. The team will now receive seed-funding of up to £30,000 to draft their full research proposal, and the winning proposal will be announced in autumn 2018.

The proposed research project seeks to understand how chronic inflammation contributes to the development of cancers, focusing initially on chronic inflammation and colitis in inflammatory bowel disease, which are known risk factors for colorectal cancer.

The team hypothesise that stress and damage to cells of the intestinal mucosa due to inflammation elevates chromosomal instability. Chromosomal instability, where either whole chromosomes or parts of chromosomes are duplicated or deleted, is found in over 80% of cases of both inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer. By unravelling the molecular mechanisms involved in these processes using innovative genomic analysis and cell-based studies, mouse models of disease and human clinical samples, they hope to speed up the identification of new ways to diagnose and prevent these diseases, and to develop new therapies.

Dr John Perry of the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, who will be undertaking an analysis of alterations in gene and chromosome structure in over 1 million individuals as part of this project, said:

“I’m excited to be part of a multi-disciplinary team using state-of-the-art experimental approaches to answer basic questions in cancer biology. Understanding how inflammation leads to errors in cell division has the potential to identify new pathways to target for future therapies.”

Professor Steve Jackson of The Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge, who will explore, in mouse models of inflammatory bowel disease, how their discoveries about chromosomal instability can be used to treat cancer, said: "I am delighted that our application has made the shortlist and hope that we are successful at the next stage!".

Kate Dry