Dr Helen Owen was the winner of the Strictly Research Award during our 2017 Bone Cancer Conference

Dr Helen Owen and Dr Britta Stordal

Middlesex University

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.