Scientists at the University of East Anglia have been awarded research funding to deep dive into individual cancer cells, paving the way for new therapeutic targets in Ewing sarcoma and osteosarcoma.

Led by Dr Darrell Green, the team will use an Idea Grant provided by the Bone Cancer Research Trust to analyse patient samples and characterise features that differentiate cancer cells that make up tumours (‘bulk cancer cells’) from cancer cells that escape the tumour and travel to other parts of the body in the blood (‘circulating tumour cells’); subsequently forming secondary tumours that are much harder to treat.

It is hoped that the study, which will focus on the genetic differences between single bone cancer cells, could help to identify targets for treatments to slow down the rate at which Ewing sarcoma and osteosarcoma spreads around the body (metastasises), or even prevent it altogether.

Metastasis occurs when cancer cells escape from the original (or “primary”) tumour and travel to other distant tissues, such as the lungs, where they settle and become secondary tumours. Dr Green and his team will investigate these cells on an individual level, looking to understand what makes circulating tumour cells different to the cancer cells present in primary and secondary tumours, and whether these differences can be harnessed as potential treatment targets.

As such, the research aims to make treatment more effective for patients, moving towards a targeted approach by identifying differences and vulnerabilities within the cells that could potentially be addressed with precision medicine.

Dr Darrell Green, group leader at UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said:

The smallest possible tumour that can be detected using today’s imaging technology is around 2 mm, which doesn’t sound a lot, but it is already made up of 100 million different cancer cells. And these are not all the same cells, they are the same cancer, but they have differences between them. For example, not all of these cancer cells are necessarily ‘dangerous’; they are dividing abnormally but they do still have a finite lifespan. What we are interested in are the really dangerous cells, the ones that have the ability to form completely new tumours from scratch, after detaching themselves and spreading around the body. These are the cells that maintain the disease and the ones that we need to target using new therapies.

Dr Zoe Davison, Head of Research, Support and Information at the Bone Cancer Research Trust, added:

We are delighted to provide the Green Lab with this vital research funding, which will allow them to use a new approach for studying bone tumours at single-cell level. The complexity of bone tumours, along with their aggressive nature, explains why they are difficult to treat effectively. We hope this study will pave the way for improved treatments that will lead to better outcomes, enabling more patients to survive and thrive beyond their diagnosis.

To find out more about this exciting study, visit the link below:

Click here