Supporting World Cancer Day 2017

Diamond research plays a vital role in tackling cancer

Despite major global advances in diagnosis and treatment, cancer still claims the lives of 8.2 million people every year of which 4 million die prematurely (30-69 years). World Cancer Day aims to raise the awareness of cancer and its treatment around the world.

Today we celebrate our role Diamond has played, working with our user community, in pioneering research in this challenging area – from developing a better understanding of how cancer cells work to delivering new cancer therapies. Diamond publishes over 900 papers per year of which around 10% focus on cancer. This research covers 11 cancer types (including breast, brain, colorectal and lung) with many more general studies on the structure of cancer cells and pathways, potential drug targets and possible candidates for drug therapy.

General understanding of cancer cells: Basic research is playing a key role

One of the main areas of basic research in this area is unravelling cancer cell structure and function. Nearly 40 papers have been published on the fundamental processes involved in cancer from understanding more about the tankyrase protein family that are involved in a variety of cellular functions, to understanding the role of acetyl-CoA carboxylases in fatty-acid biosynthesis and cancer processes.

A number of studies have focused on specific cancers. For example, it is known that excess levels of iron may have carcinogenic potential in colorectal cells, so one group used the total-reflection X-ray spectrometry facilities at Diamond to improve understanding of the impact of iron storage on colorectal cancer.   

Another study using synchrotron X-ray diffraction was performed to understand the importance of small calcium deposits (calcifications) in breast tissue. These are important early diagnostic markers of breast cancer and the study helped to identify important differences between benign and malignant disease.

Role of pathogens in cancer development

The bacterium Helicobacter pylori  is a major cause of gastric cancer. Macromolecular crystallography techniques were used to study how the virulence of certain bacterial strains is increased and how the bacterium attaches to gastric surfaces at a structural and molecular level. These findings provide the first steps to produce evidence-based methods to reduce the risks of gastric cancer.  Another study using the same techniques sought to capture the catalytic steps associated with the human methionine adenosyltransferase (MAT) enzymes that play an important role in liver and colon cancers.

Drug design and drug therapy

Diamond facilities are also being used to identify new drug targets in a number of cancers. The new XChem facility, launched in late 2015, has allowed scientists to accelerate the process of designing drugs to treat cancer and a range of other diseases. The new fragment screening facility has already proved invaluable in selecting and validating possible drug targets in breast cancer.

Vibrational microspectroscopy was used to study the effects of nilotinib, a drug used in the management of leukaemia on leukaemia cells that had been cloned to be sensitive or resistant to the drug. This work will facilitate the identification of spectral biomarkers of resistance to cancer drugs which could better guide clinicians to tailor treatment for individual patients.

The tankyrase proteins are promising anticancer drug targets and a recent study on colorectal cancer used Diamond facilities to screen more than 1000 potential tankyrase inhibitors to identify a novel class of compounds (the 3-aryl-5-substituted isoquinolin-1-ones) that not only show potent inhibition of tankyrase activity but also inhibit the growth of colorectal cancer cells.

Many other cancer research projects are being conducted at Diamond and we are proud to support the aims of World Cancer Day and play our part in tackling cancer and changing lives for the better. 

World Cancer Day takes place every year on 4 February to unite the world in the fight against cancer.

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