As part of our commitment to nurturing the next generation of primary bone cancer researchers, we are proud to have awarded five years of transformational funding to Dr Lucia Cottone at University College London.

Dr Cottone is the recipient of our first Early Career Fellowship Grant, which has been designed as the stepping stone in a researchers' career that signifies their commitment to primary bone cancer. We caught up with the talented and emerging Dr Cottone to find out more about her path into research. Below she shares how motherhood motivates her work in this field and how she plans to investigate cancer cell resistance to chemotherapy.

Please can you introduce yourself

My name is Lucia, and I am a senior research fellow at University College London. After a PhD in cancer immunology in Italy, where I'm originally from, for the last seven years I have been working in primary bone cancer research with Professor Adrienne Flanagan at the University College London (UCL) Cancer Institute. Here I have gained expertise in the genetic, epigenetic, and cellular biology of primary bone cancer.

Why did you decide to get involved in primary bone cancer research?

Our understanding of the biology of bone tumours is advancing at a slower pace compared to more common cancers. This is partly due to their rarity and the limited availability of reliable experimental systems that are representative of patient samples.

The research team at UCL is built on a solid collaboration of scientists with research-active pathologists, oncologists, and surgeons in the London sarcoma team (which is a major bone tumour service). This collaboration is fundamental to ensuring that our research is relevant to patients.

I became involved in primary bone cancer research when I saw the opportunity to bring my expertise in molecular and cellular biology to the team, in order to improve our knowledge of how tumours function and how to target them to improve patient care.

What does it mean to be the first early career fellow funded by the Bone Cancer Research Trust?

It is a huge honour to be awarded this funding and become a part of the Bone Cancer Research Trust family.

Thanks to this fellowship, I have been given the opportunity to lead a new and exciting project to help those impacted by primary bone cancer, which includes many young people. As a mother of three, this awareness motivates me and reminds me of the importance of each daily progress of my research.

This fellowship is a crucial stepping stone towards becoming an independent scientist and a leader in the field of primary bone cancer research.

Why is chemotherapy resistance such a significant problem in primary bone cancer?

After chemotherapy for osteosarcoma was introduced in the 1970s, survival increased from 10-20% to around 60%. Since then, however, the survival rate has not improved in the past 40 years.

Curing osteosarcoma is still largely dependent on chemotherapy. Despite this, the response to the toxic treatment is poor in almost half of those treated. The mechanisms underlying this failure have not been clearly identified yet, and now there's an urgent need to understand the cause(s) of chemotherapy resistance to improve outcomes for patients.

Please can you summarise the aims of the project you will carry out during your fellowship

My target is to identify the molecular events that cause osteosarcoma cells to become resistant to chemotherapy.

Research into the more common cancers has shown that a subpopulation of cancer cells 'go to sleep', which dramatically reduces the rate at which they multiply. This process is called dormancy. It allows dormant cells to avoid the effects of chemotherapeutic agents, which are designed to kill rapidly dividing cells. Some preliminary experiments have shown that dormancy may contribute to resistance to chemotherapy in osteosarcoma, however, the extent to which and by which mechanism(s) is largely unknown.

Using my experience as a cellular and molecular biologist of bone cancer, I will investigate this phenomenon. I hope to develop ways of preventing the cells from becoming dormant, killing them, or pulling them out of their dormant state so they will regain sensitivity to chemotherapy. A similar approach has been attempted in the more common cancers and has improved effectiveness of chemotherapy.

What are your hopes for the future in terms of patient outcome?

The information acquired from these experiments will help to predict which tumours are likely to be resistant to chemotherapy, by identifying specific biomarkers on the tissue samples obtained at the time of diagnosis.

The compound/drug screening will then lead to the identification of molecules that improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy and I hope that, after being tested in clinical trials, they will be made available to patients.

How did the input and feedback from the Bone Cancer Research Trust's Patient and Public Involvement Panel (PPIP) help shape your proposal?

The interaction with PPIP members was vital. Talking to them and listening to their stories motivated me to find a way in which my expertise could help.

Additionally, the feedback I received was crucial to designing a project that, despite its strong basic science methodology, could have a clinical application in the not-too-distant future.

Finally, the PPIP members different perspective on the issue prompted me to think outside of the box and helped me come up with new ideas.

How important is the work of the Bone Cancer Research Trust?

The Bone Cancer Research Trust is a charity dedicated entirely to fighting primary bone cancer. Larger charities tend to fund projects on the more common tumours, and if it wasn't for dedicated charities the research addressing primary bone cancer would progress much more slowly.

I believe the Bone Cancer Research Trust's key quality is its ability to connect cancer patients, healthcare providers and scientists together. This fosters both a unique and productive collaboration.

How important is it for early career researchers to be supported by charities?

Research is financially demanding and securing long term funding is fundamental to ensuring success and sustaining resilience and retention. This is particularly true for early career scientists as they build on their expertise, expand their network both nationally and internationally, and take their first steps towards becoming independent.

Supporting these scientists in such a critical phase of their career is pivotal to progressing research into primary bone cancer.

Finally, is there a message you would like to send to our supporters?

Thank you so much for your invaluable support! With your help we can advance our knowledge and understanding of primary bone cancer which translates directly to patient benefit. This work simply would not be possible without you.

To find out more about this research project, click below:

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