This year, the Bone Cancer Conference 2017 saw the return of ‘Strictly Research'. This interactive session saw our research grant applicants pitch their projects to a live audience and expert judging panel, leaving the funding decision in the hands of our conference attendees.

Earlier this year, we invited researchers to apply for our ‘Strictly Research’ grant funding for projects that aim to answer questions specifically in the field of primary bone cancer. Applications were then sent to our ‘Independent Scientific Advisory Panel’ (also known as our ISAP) to ensure the proposals were scientifically accurate, worthy of funding from the Bone Cancer Research Trust, and had the potential to make a positive impact to primary bone cancer patients. Of these applications, 3 were deemed suitable by our ISAP and asked to attend the Bone Cancer Conference 2017 to take part in our ‘Strictly Research 2017’ competition.

This year our judging panel on the day was made up of Sarah Dawson (BCRT Trustee), Kenny Rankin (Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon and ‘Strictly Research 2016’ winner), Dr Jessica Bate (Consultant Paediatric Oncologist) and Professor Allie Gartland (Professor of Bone and Cancer Biology).

Patients, families, fundraisers, researchers and healthcare professionals in the room were invited to vote on their favourite projects after hearing the 3 applicants present their proposals and receive scores from our ‘Strictly Research’ judging panel. The project and researcher with the most votes would then be crowned winner and receive full funding for their project!

We are very grateful for all 3 applicants for attending the Bone Cancer Conference 2017 and presenting their fantastic research proposals to those in attendance.

Dr Helen Owen, from Middlesex University, presented her work investigating cell survival mechanisms that may be leading to drug resistance in osteosarcoma patients.

We then heard from Maria Mangini, a PhD student working in Italy, who hopes to research the mechanism of an enzyme involved in giant cell formation. This work hopes to unravel the role and possibility of targeting this enzyme in order to prevent the progression of primary bone cancers that are characterised by the presence of giant cells.

The final presentation we heard was from Dr Carsten Hansen, of The University of Edinburgh. Dr Hansen has a keen interest in the pressure that builds up inside of an osteosarcoma tumour mass, and how this pressure may affect the cancers behaviour and the cell signalling processes taking place. This particular project focuses the Hippo pathway and determining if targeting this area could improve osteosarcoma patient outcome.

Our Strictly Research 2017 Winners

Following 3 excellent presentations, time for the audience to ask their questions and a Strictly Come Dancing style vote from our judging panel, the audience were asked to place their votes on whom they believe should receive funding from the Bone Cancer Research Trust.

Upon announcing the audience favourite at the end of the conference, we were delighted to share the exciting news that 2 projects would receive funding from the Bone Cancer Research Trust. Congratulations to Dr Helen Owen, of Middlesex University, and Dr Carsten Hansen, of The University of Edinburgh who were crowned our ‘Strictly Research 2017’ winners in first and second place respectively.

Read on to learn more on these two winning ‘Strictly Research 2017’ grants.

Dr Helen Owen – Overcoming Resistance to Chemotherapy in Osteosarcoma (overall winner)

Resistance to chemotherapy (referred to as chemoresistance) is a large obstacle in the effective treatment of osteosarcoma. Although chemotherapy has advanced significantly in previous years, there are still great improvements required in order for osteosarcoma patient survival to improve and many researchers believe this is only possible if we find ways to overcome chemotherapy resistance.

Recently, a process known as autophagy has been in the spotlight as a potential mechanism for chemoresistance in a number of different cancers. Autophagy is a tightly controlled cell survival mechanism that helps to maintain a balance between the creation and recycling of cellular products. However, the mechanism of autophagy in osteosarcoma is not consistent. In some circumstance autophagy can promote cell survival, yet in others it contributes to cell death. Therefore, determining the role of autophagy in various osteosarcoma tumours, and various tumour stages, is required in order for us to learn more about osteosarcoma drug resistance. Dr Helen Owen will be using her funding from the Bone Cancer Research Trust to investigate this and determine if targeting autophagy may be an alternative route to improving the effectiveness of chemotherapy for osteosarcoma patients. This research also hopes to identify new treatment targets in this pathway.

The second part of Dr Owen's proposal lies with predicting patient response to chemotherapy using a biological marker known as MicroRNAs. MicroRNAs control many cellular processes; including autophagy and the spread of tumour cells to other areas of the body. Finding a biological marker that can predict how an individual’s tumour will react to different chemotherapy drugs is a well sought after finding in cancer research. These MicroRNAs are excellent candidates to use for identifying and predicting a patient’s response to chemotherapy due to their abundance in the body (in the blood, saliva and urine) and so identifying MicroRNAs that regulate autophagy in osteosarcoma would create a fantastic tool for predicting how a patient will respond to different chemotherapy drugs; bringing the concept of ‘personalised medicine’ to light for osteosarcoma patients.

Dr Carsten Hansen – Targeting the Hippo Pathway for Osteosarcoma Therapy

Dr Carsten Hansen was recently awarded the Chancellor’s Fellowship and a PhD studentship with The University of Edinburgh. This award allowed Dr Hansen to set up his laboratory and collect data to take forward into his ‘Strictly Research’ project. The results gained from this project with the Bone Cancer Research Trust will form the basis of his PhD studentship, which has the ultimate aim of developing new treatments for osteosarcoma patients.

Dr Hansen’s research focuses on the increased pressure that builds inside a tumour mass. This increased pressure is known to affect a number of processes in the cancer cells and negatively affect the delivery of chemotherapy drugs to the tumour due to the compressing of blood vessels these drugs are delivered by. Ultimately, this increased pressure has a direct effect on the behaviour of cancer cells and has been seen too lead to increased growth, lowered cell death and the increased possibility of the spread of these tumour cells to other areas of the body. The reasoning behind these effects is not certain, but it is thought that the increased pressure affects a cellular signalling pathway known as the Hippo pathway.

Previous research has shown the Hippo pathway to be highly altered in osteosarcoma and its activity to relate to effects on the cancers behaviour in terms of growth, cell death and chemotherapy delivery. Dr Hansen will investigate the Hippo pathway in great detail and investigate how increases in tumour pressure alter this pathway and its downstream effects. Should the hypothesis of this research project be correct, this work will highlight areas of the Hippo pathway that may be targeted to prevent the effects seen when pressure in an osteosarcoma tumour increases.

We will be sure to keep our supporters updated of any progress on these two newly funded projects. Keen to learn more? Contact us