The most common childhood cancers are cancers of the blood (leukaemias and lymphomas), brain, and central nervous system, accounting for over two thirds of the cancers diagnosed in children. Between 2014–2016, around 1,800 children were diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK. An additional 2,600 young people aged betweeen 15 and 24 are also diagnosed each year. Much research is directed at designing less toxic therapies, reducing therapeutic burden, and developing diagnostic tests to enhance patient stratification. This research is made possible in Cambridge by strong links between research labs and the clinic as well as contributions to international clinical trials.
Malignant germ cell tumours (GCTs) are complex cancers that affect patients of all ages. They develop from cells that produce eggs or sperm and mostly occur in the ovaries and testes. Around 2,500 men are diagnosed with testicular GCTs every year in the UK alone, and the disease is a leading cause of death of young men.
Dr Matthew Murray, Dr James Nicholson and Prof Nick Coleman are leading research on the causes on GCTs, in particular in the investigation of the role of microRNAs; they were the first to show that increased levels of these microRNAs are present in the blood when malignant GCTs are diagnosed and that levels of the molecules can be monitored during treatment. In the future, microRNAs found in the blood are likely to be useful for improving the accuracy of diagnosis and disease-monitoring in other solid tumours of childhood.
Murray et al. Clinical utility of circulating miR-371a-3p for the management of patients with intracranial malignant germ cell tumors. NeuroOnc Adv. April 2020
Singla et al. Serum microRNA-371a-3p levels to predict viable germ cell tumor in chemotherapy-naïve patients undergoing retroperitoneal lymph node dissection. J Clin Onc. Feb 2020
Depani et al. Results from the UK Children's Cancer and Leukaemia Group study of extracranial germ cell tumours in children and adolescents (GCIII). Eur J Cancer. 2019 Jul 12;118:49-57
Dr Matt Murray is collaborating with Dr Raheleh Rahbari (Wellcome Sanger Institute) to investigate developmental origins of germ cell tumours
The Programme is part of an exciting new collaboration with the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala, Uganda, alongside Cambridge Africa and Cambridge Global Health Partnerships.
Dr Suzanne Turner and her group have exchanged visits with research groups at UCI and are working with UCI to improve research and treatment for childhood lymphomas.
Research on paediatric musculoskeletal cancers is conducted in the labs of Professor Matthew Allen and Dr Jane Dobson. They are interested in preclinical modelling, with a particular emphasis on paediatric cancers (such as osteosarcoma, rhabdomyosarcoma and Ewings sarcoma) and adult cancers that spread to bone (such as breast, prostate, renal and lung cancer). They use a combination of cell culture and preclinical animal models to explore the mechanisms through which these cancers grow in bone and then spread (metastasise) to other organs.
They also work with dogs and cats with naturally-occurring cancer to evaluate new therapies and work on strategies for prevention of metastasis. It is known that certain soft tissue sarcomas appear more frequent in specific breeds of dog, suggesting an underlying genetic influence, which they are exploring.
Ultimately, they seek to develop new approaches to diagnose, track and treat these cancers in both animals and humans.
Funding: Sarcoma UK
Our programme members work in many different departments and institutions across Cambridge and are actively involved in many national and international organsiations.
The Cancer Research UK Children’s Brain Tumour Centre of Excellence (CRUK-CBTCE) brings together teams at the University of Cambridge and the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) to revolutionise the approach to research and treatment of paediatric brain tumours, drawing on the host institutions' strengths in therapeutic discovery.
To forge an innovative four-stage pipeline that generates curative treatments for children with brain tumours.
To transform the way, the world develops treatments for children with brain tumours. The research strategy for the CRUK-CBTCE is centred on their biology, drug discovery and development pipeline, which will leverage the expertise of the brightest minds in the paediatric brain tumour field. For more information on the CRUK-CBTCE, please visit their website.
Neuroblastoma is a cancer of the peripheral nervous system and is largely diagnosed in children under the age of 5. On average, around 100 children will be diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year in the UK alone.
Research into this rare paediatric cancer in Cambridge is conducted in the labs of Prof. Anna Philpott and Dr Suzanne Turner. In the former lab, research is being conducted to elucidate the relationship between cellular proliferation and differentiation and how this finely controlled balance is affected in neuroblastoma. In the latter lab, the mechanisms of drug resistance of some neuroblastoma sub-types is being analysed.
Funding: Neuroblastoma UK, CRUK, MRC
Trigg et al. Opportunities and challenges of circulating biomarkers in neuroblastoma. Open Biology 2019 May
Projects include characterising tumour heterogeneity in paediatric non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), and investigating minimal residual (MRD) and minimal disseminated disease (MDD) as prognostic factors.
Research into paediatric leukaemias is analyzing mechanisms of therapy resistance and divulging novel therapeutic targets. This research is undertaken with close alignment to a portfolio of clinical trials conducted at both International and National levels.
Attarbaschi et al. Rare non-Hodgkin Lymphoma of Childhood and Adolescence: A Consensus Diagnostic and Therapeutic Approach to Pediatric-Type Follicular Lymphoma, Marginal Zone Lymphoma, and Nonanaplastic Peripheral T-cell Lymphoma. Pediatr Blood Cancer 2020 May
Ducray et al. The Transcriptional Roles of ALK Fusion Proteins in Tumorigenesis. Cancers (Basel) 2019 Jun.
Hague et al. NPM-ALK is a key regulator of the oncoprotein FOXM1 in ALK-positive Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma. Cancer (Basel) 2019 Aug
ALK is increasingly recognised as a prevalent oncogene in a number of human malignancies, including anaplastic large cell lymphomas.
The European Training Network ALKATRAS (ALK as A target of TRAnslational Science) is supporting a cohort of 15 early stage researchers to become the next generation of cancer research specialists, several of whom are working in Suzanne Turner’s group in Cambridge.
Pandolfini et al. METTL1 Promotes let-7 MicroRNA Processing via m7G Methylation. Mol Cell April 2019