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Grand challenge Hans Clevers

Mutations in the BRCA gene are amongst the most well-known inherited genetic defects that can lead to cancer, and increase the risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancers. There are many other genetic mistakes that increase the likelihood of developing cancer, but why do they only affect certain tissues in the body?

If someone carries a potentially cancer-causing gene mutation, this fault can exist in every cell of the body, but only causes specific cancers, e.g. breast or skin. The team is studying why this is the case, and will use this information to find ways to prevent or treat cancer in these organs.

By mapping cancer drivers in our cells – molecules that are known to cause cancer – the team hopes to shed light on which drivers cause cancer in different tissues. This map could transform the way doctors treat cancer, as they will be able to select which drugs are more likely to work based on exactly how and where the cancer originated.

This project is supported in partnership with The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research.

Both teams will now join a growing community of Grand Challenge researchers, which first launched in 2015 and already includes four international teams announced in 2017.

Edward Harlow, PhD, member of the Grand Challenge advisory panel and Professor of cancer education and research at Harvard Medical School, said: “I’m not aware of any funding opportunities anywhere in the world that can begin to integrate this many international cancer experts on projects of such clear importance. These teams have been brought together to tackle many of the biggest challenges we currently face in cancer research. We can see from the progress already achieved how powerful it is to support collaborations of this scale.”

Iain Foulkes, PhD, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of research and innovation, said:

“Individually, these research teams are among the best in the world in their respective fields. By bringing them together across borders, Grand Challenge is enabling these teams to think bigger and establish new and exciting collaborations. The scale of the funding reflects the opportunity we see in harnessing their ability to understand and tackle cancer.”