We interviewed Professor Burchill following the recent award of our ideas grant about the new project 'Identification of a lead candidate prognostic biomarker and a novel target for therapy that drives Ewing sarcoma cancer stem-like cells'.

Can you tell us about the project and its aims?

We have recently shown that Ewing sarcoma is driven by a sub-population of cells that divide and are resistant to current treatments, so called Ewing sarcoma cancer stem-like cells (ES-CSCs). Improved outcome for some patients will only be achieved when drugs to target these cells have been identified and incorporated into treatment. We have identified a lead protein that drives the growth and renewal of ES-CSCs. This protein is therefore an attractive target for the design of new treatments. However the protein exists in two different forms called A and B. With the new funding from Bone Cancer Research Trust we will determine whether A and B, just A or just B are expressed in Ewing sarcoma and ES-CSCs.

How is the project a continuation of research previously funded by the Bone Cancer Research Trust?

With support from the Bone Cancer Research Trust and Ewing Sarcoma Research Trust we have been able to collect and characterise patient-derived Ewing sarcoma cells. These cells provide a unique and precious resource to test treatments that might be used to improve outcomes and identify targets like protein A and B that could then be exploited to eradicate the cells responsible for progression and relapse.

What difference could this project make for Ewing sarcoma patients in the future?

Confirmation of the driver protein in ES-CSCs and subsequent identification of drugs to target this protein will allow us to fast-track targeted treatment to eradicate ES-CSCs, with the goal of accelerating new treatments into early phase clinical trials to improve outcomes. The combination of targeted treatment to kill ES-CSCs with chemotherapy is predicted to improve outcomes and minimise treatment-induced side effects, since we expect it will be possible to reduce the amount of chemotherapy in combination with these novel agents

How important is the funding provided by the Bone Cancer Research Trust?

There isn’t enough funding for research in bone cancer. Without the support of Bone Cancer Research Trust it would not be possible to undertake our research in Ewing sarcoma or attract and train future research scientists in the field. The Bone Cancer Research Trust infrastructure awards to enable surgical centres to collect bone tumours are also important, increasing the number of patient samples available to increase the clinical relevance of research projects.

You’ve been successful in receiving grants from us in the past, do you think we are stimulating the bone cancer research community?

Yes. It’s a wonderful charity to work with as they are committed to promoting and sustaining the best research for patient benefit. For example early this year Bone Cancer Research Trust hosted a research workshop on osteosarcoma bringing together researchers in this common bone cancer and awarded their largest grant to date to fuel improvements in outcomes for osteosarcoma patients (ICONIC). I think the increase we have seen in national funding applications for projects in osteosarcoma is in part a consequence of these initiatives and raised awareness of the need for translational research. I hope we will have similar impact next year through the Ewing’s sarcoma meeting that is in planning. Save the date: Friday 12th June 2020.

What would you say to Bone Cancer Research Trust supporters who are raising funds for research?

A huge thank you. Your commitment and enthusiasm to raise funds for Bone Cancer Research Trust is essential for the continuation and expansion of research into bone cancers, to improve outcomes and minimise treatment induced side-effects for everyone. Together we can beat bone cancer.

To find out more about the research project, please click below.

Research Project