NCRI Cancer Conference 2015
Dr. Lee Campbell, the Science Projects and Research Communications Manager at Cancer Research Wales, is attending the 2015 NCRI Cancer Conference. He reports on Day 1 of the event.
I travelled to Liverpool on Saturday very much looking forward to this year’s NCRI cancer conference. A preview of the programme gave the impression that this year could be the best yet! The meeting started very well for me: on Sunday morning I managed – much to my surprise! – to get a reserved place on a special training workshop that taught scientists how to analyse complex cancer data and apply this to their own research.
New Initiatives for Cellular Molecular Pathology
The 2015 conference was officially opened in the afternoon by Dr Karen Kennedy, the Director of the NCRI, who announced a series of new, exciting and much-needed initiatives for cellular molecular pathology in the UK. These new initiatives are very welcomed, as molecular pathology underpins the whole framework of stratified cancer medicine. These initiatives will help reinvigorate the whole field of pathology, following years of decline, and will serve to increase the skill base within the field.
As the need for rapid and more accurate diagnostic tests in cellular pathology is largely driven by the demands of the cancer field, these new initiatives seek to provide vital infrastructure, as well as the recruitment and training of personnel. This means that the very latest breakthroughs in research and technology can be quickly adopted and integrated into the way services are provided. A successful outcome will ensure better diagnostic tests, improved prognosis and more accurate targeting of treatments for cancer patients everywhere.
Overcoming Treatment Failure in Prostate Cancer
The first plenary lecture of the meeting was given by Professor Charles Sawyer from Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre, USA, who was instrumental in helping develop the targeted therapy Enzalutamide for prostate cancer. This drug has revolutionised the treatment of prostate cancers that have developed resistance to standard hormone therapy. Despite prolonging the lives of men with prostate cancer, unfortunately, patients do eventually develop resistance to Enzalutamide itself. Prof Sawyer was able to share how his very latest research has determined how this resistance develops via glucocorticoid receptors, and how his team are devising new strategies to circumvent this.
Distinguished and multiple award-winning scientist Professor Kristian Helin presented an excellent overview of epigenetics, a field of cancer research dedicated to the study of the molecular switches that are responsible for turning cancer-associated genes on and off. Professor Helin has been at the forefront of epigenetics for many years. His lifetime of work is now reaching fulfilment, as we are beginning to see drugs that target cancer gene regulation make a real impact in the treatment of cancer patients in the clinic.
Getting To Grips With Late Cancer Diagnosis
The concluding plenary talk of the day was given by Dr Harpal Kumar, Chairman of the NCRI, who evaluated just how much we have learnt about early cancer diagnosis in the UK over the last 8 years. While we appear to be closing the gap for breast cancer compared to some of the better-performing countries, much remains to be done for the other common malignancies such as bowel and lung cancer.
The UK has set a target that, within 20 years, 75% of all cancer patients will be alive 10 years after their initial diagnosis. Early diagnosis of cancer is critical to this. Dr Kumar identified three key strategic areas to pursue to enable cancers to be caught at an early stage when they are easier to treat, manage and cure: better markers of early cancer diagnosis, new effective screening programmes and improved diagnostic pathways.
Early diagnosis is an area of research that we at Cancer Research Wales see as a priority, and one we regularly blog about! We’re very involved in promoting early diagnosis, as the relatively poor survival rates for cancer in Wales are thought to result mainly from late cancer diagnosis.
Day 1 of the conference really hit the ground running with a varied, exciting and challenging range of topics up for discussion – and there’s so much more to follow throughout the week. Stay posted!
Dr. Lee Campbell will be back tomorrow with news from the NCRI Cancer Conference, Day 2.