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The University of Southampton

Blood cancer team shortlisted for Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge Award

Published: 19 April 2016
Dr Surinder Sahota
Dr Surinder Sahota leads the MapT-MM team

A multi-disciplinary team of international scientists led by the University of Southampton (UK), has been shortlisted along with eight other groups, to the final stages of Cancer Research UK's global Grand Challenge* – an ambitious series of £20m cancer grants tackling some of the toughest questions in cancer research.


Bringing together world-leading experts in immunogenetics, genetics, biochemists, blood and bone cancer specialists and scientists, UK-based researcher Dr Surinder Sahota from the University of Southampton and his MapT-MM team will search for a way to accurately predict whether patients with a pre-cancerous condition called monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) will go on to develop multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that localises to the bone marrow.

The team proposes to comprehensively scour the DNA of people with MGUS in search of changes that are also found in myeloma. Combining this with information about faulty molecules inside cells and how the immune system reacts to MGUS and myeloma, the team hopes to be able to predict, as early as possible who will develop cancer.

Early identification would be enormously beneficial for the 80,000 people worldwide who die from myeloma each year, but may also identify transitional traits that other cancers may go through to become lethal.

The team, which also includes the University of Oxford (UK), University of Heidelberg (Germany), Consorci Institut D’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer, Barcelona (Spain), Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Tarragona (Spain), and Yale School of Medicine (USA), will now receive seed-funding to draft their full research proposal and the winning proposal will be announced in autumn 2016.

The Grand Challenge award aims to revolutionise how we diagnose, prevent and treat cancer by uniting teams of the best scientists around the world to come up with answers to crucial questions about how to save more lives from cancer.

Dr Surinder Sahota, University of Southampton, Lead for the MapT-MM team, said: “Our consortium is absolutely delighted at being shortlisted under the Cancer Research UK Grand Challenge Call as this now allows us to progress to a full application. Our team was particularly drawn to the Grand Challenge that tasked us to ‘Distinguish between lethal cancers that need treating and non-lethal cancers that don’t’. We will focus on how MGUS transforms to MM using a multitude of interlinked global experimental approaches. This strategy has only been made feasible by harnessing the available expertise worldwide. We have assembled a team of international investigators, each with a leading footprint in research in their fields, and have also included a patient advocate as an important and integral part of our team. We are looking forward with great interest to completing the full application to Cancer Research UK on our experimental strategy.”

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “The calibre of applications for our Grand Challenge is evidence of the remarkable global talent working in cancer research. It’s inspiring to see scientists of all disciplines and nations unite in the fight against the disease.”

Dr Rick Klausner, chair of the Grand Challenge advisory panel, said: “With so many exceptional teams proposing novel approaches, it was no easy task to pick our shortlist, but we’re delighted with the teams we’ve selected and look forward to hearing more about their plans to beat the toughest questions in cancer. At least one of these teams will be awarded the first ever Grand Challenge award later this year.”


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