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Southampton researchers to share in £15m funding to develop better cancer treatments

Published: 9 October 2015
Professor Gareth Thomas

Researchers from the University of Southampton are to share in £15m of funding from Cancer Research UK to inspire collaborative cancer research between UK scientists through a new awards scheme.

The Cancer Research UK Centres Network Accelerator Award is a new initiative which provides infrastructure support to four new research centres in order to encourage collaboration between different organisations and boost ‘bench to bedside’ science.

Southampton scientists will contribute to one of these centres - a £3.9m project led by Queens University Belfast with Newcastle and Manchester universities, University College London and the Institute of Cancer Research.

The centre will develop new pathology and image analysis techniques for solid tumours. This includes research to improve cancer diagnosis through tissue imaging, biomarker discovery and clinical trials. The award will also invest in the next generation of scientists with a Clinical Fellowship programme in molecular pathology.

Gareth Thomas, Professor of Experimental Pathology at the University of Southampton, said: “As we move towards an era of personalised medicine, the ability to accurately select patients likely to benefit from a particular cancer treatment is becoming an essential requirement of clinical practice. This often requires analysis of patient’s tissues for biomarkers that predict for likely response to treatment.

“However, changes in levels of biomarker expression or distribution are often subtle and sub visual, and manual scoring by a pathologist may be time consuming and not practicable in current clinical practice. This program aims to develop automated digital pathology approaches to circumvent these issues; strengthening the existing digital pathology infrastructure across centres, establishing and standardising digital pathology and image analysis approaches, and consolidating strategically important links with other CRUK centres to establish national leadership in this field.”

Dr David Scott, Cancer Research UK’s director of science funding, said: “Effective partnerships are crucial for delivering the greatest science and boosting advancements in fighting cancer. We’re proud to invest in collaborative and innovative research across the UK with the new Centres Network Accelerator awards. It’s through working together and uniting expertise that we will do better research and save more lives.”

The new award will build on Southampton’s expertise in cancer immunology, with the Belfast-Southampton partnership aiming to be a first for molecular pathology integration within CRUK Centres. Southampton is also one of the largest UK training centres for young academic pathologists.

The Southampton team consists of Professors Peter Johnson (Centre Lead), Gareth Thomas (Pathology Lead), Christian Ottensmeier (immunotherapeutics) and Dr Pandurangan Vijayanand (transcriptomic and epigenetic next generation sequencing).

This expertise, combined with recent exciting cancer immunology breakthroughs, has inspired the University of Southampton to launch a major fundraising campaign to open a world-leading Centre for Cancer Immunology at Southampton General Hospital in 2017. Through pooling knowledge and extending resources, the new state-of-the-art Centre aims to accelerate research progress and save more lives from cancer.

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