Last week some of the Bone Cancer Research Trust team headed to Liverpool for the largest cancer research meeting in the UK. The 12th NCRI conference had a multi-disciplinary programme including information for researchers, oncologists, physiotherapists, nurses and consumer groups which are made up of patients, carers and anyone personally affected by cancer.

It was a packed three days, with 140 speakers from both the UK and internationally. We were one of 70 exhibition stands and were very pleased to be representing the field of bone cancer research. We had some very useful conversations with people from other charities and research institutes, as well as healthcare professionals. Our #ResearchWin competition encouraged people to share what they found most important and inspiring about cancer research. As well as exhibiting at the conference, we attended some very interesting talks and sessions. Check out our debrief below for more information....

NCRI Strategy Planning

The NCRI Strategy planning space encouraged all conference attendees to input their thoughts and ideas on the future strategy on cancer research, allowing all voices to be heard in order to develop methods of accelerating progress in cancer-related research and finding solutions for patients. A key theme regarding creating a collaborative and information sharing network in order to drive results and spot gaps in research – such as that for rare cancers like primary bone cancer – arose from this interactive session held over the 4 day conference. Another key topic that was highlighted related to improving how advances in cancer research are reported, so that we are able to efficiently track the impact cancer-related research is having and engage with wider audiences. Finally, a look at patient’s quality-of-life, both during and after their treatment, was considered as an aspect requiring more attention for research and support for those patients living with and beyond cancer.


Scientists working in the field of bone cancer were in attendance at NCRI all the way from Harvard Medical School, Boston, in order to share their work. Professor Ferrone and Dr Schwab are investigating the properties of both chondrosarcoma and giant cell tumours of the bone in regard to immunology – in the hope to determine possible treatment targets for both of these tumour types.

Their main focus is B7-H3, a molecule that is part of the B7 family of molecules which are involved in immune regulation and are known to be over-expressed in a wide variety of solid tumour types. Preventing the function of certain members of the B7 family has been seen to have powerful anti-tumour effects in several tumour types and therefore is a worthy area of investigation in tumours of the bone.

The team at Harvard Medical School are determining the level of B7-H3 in both conventional chondrosarcoma and dedifferentiated chondrosarcoma patient tumour samples in order to determine if the level of B7-H3 expression is associated with any particular characteristics these patients faced, such as survival time or severity of their tumour. This process was repeated in tumour samples from giant cell tumour of the bone patients.

Although in the early stages, this research seems very promising in identifying BH-73 as a possible target to improve patient survival and to lower the progression and invasion of these tumours of the bone.


NCRI Consumer Group

The NCRI Consumer Forum is made up of patients, carers and anybody affected by cancer who wishes to join discussions regarding research. This year at the NCRI a ‘Dragon's Den’ style session was held and researchers presented their new ideas, discussed any problems they may be having with a current study and shared their findings with patients to create increased consumer involvement in their work. This hour long session offered practical and on-the-spot advice while allowing the patient voice to be heard in discussions regarding research.

Bone cancer patient involvement in consumer groups is vital to increase awareness and understanding of the disease and patient needs. Click here to find out more about the NCRI Consumer Forum and patient involvement.

How we talk about cancer

Another patient and researcher led session was held to discuss how cancer is spoke about and to improve the manner in which we all communicate - be that in charity fundraising appeals or on a patient and doctor level.

This session also highlighted the ‘OK to Ask!’ campaign, which encourages patients and carers to ask questions about research opportunities that may be available to them. The campaign aims to ensure patients are more aware of research and how it takes place, while also reminding healthcare professionals to be aware of the available research opportunities.

Find out more about the OK to Ask! Campaign.

From research to clinical practice

Further topics being discussed at the NCRI were those regarding clinical trials, techniques that aim to identify the risk of cancer spread and the possible use of immunotherapy and radiotherapy as a combination treatment - to name just a few. One talk that seemed to catch the attention of a range of attendees was regarding the challenges associated with moving research evidence into NHS clinical practice – an aspect that has been difficult in the past, with the average time for a discovery in the laboratory to be used in patients being 15 years! This wait is due to many obstacles, such as adequate funding, regulatory approval and staffing levels.

During this discussion, David Phelps of Imperial College London presented news of a novel surgical approach known as the ‘Surgical Intelligent Knife’ (or ‘iKnife’ for short), which can tell the difference between cancerous and non-cancerous cells during surgery. This new technology could reduce timescales by eliminating the need for surgeons to wait for the return of laboratory results in order to know how best to remove the tumour. It is hoped that the iKnife will greatly increase the accuracy of surgery and spare healthy tissues that surround the tumour. However, as mentioned, the need for clinical trials, licensing and many more aspects will all take time before a patient benefit can be seen from the iKnife. This is a true example that highlights the need to balance the safety of new discoveries with the speed that allows patients to benefit from such an exciting piece of research.

Interested in the iKnife? Discover more.