cancer-research-uk-grand-challenge-20-million-research-grantsIn 2015 Cancer Research UK launched a series of £20m awards for researchers attempting game changing research. These are the most ambitious grants in the world allowing international research teams to take on the biggest problems in cancer research, the Grand Challenges.
Seven Grand Challenges were set in consultation with patients, innovators and the scientific community, and multidisciplinary teams from across the Globe were tasked to submit proposals to tackle them – of the 56 bids received, 9 pioneering teams were shortlisted.
The idea was originally to fund only 1 team, but the independent scientific advisory panel were so impressed by the quality and potential of the shortlisted teams that they recommended an increase in the investment from one award to FOUR!!
Thanks to the generous support of partners and donors it was possible to fund not just one, but four exceptional teams.
As 10 of the world’s leading scientists deliberated on their decision to select the first winners of the Grand Challenge awards after months of hard work and sleepless nights, explains Dr Rick Klausner, chair of the Grand Challenge Advisory Board said:
We were almost pinching ourselves when we read the winning teams’ applications. They were among the most exciting I’ve ever read, and I’ve been reading and reviewing funding applications for almost 40 years!”


The four recipients of the grants, who will receive more than £70 million over the next 5 years as they attempt to answer 3 of the toughest questions on how to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, were announced a few days ago:
See HERE how the Selection Process was conducted.

Identifying Unknown Preventable Causes of Cancer

Professor Sir Mike Stratton – Discovering the causes of cancer by studying DNA ‘fingerprints’
The environment we’re exposed to and some of the things we choose to do, like smoking and drinking alcohol, can increase our risk of cancer by damaging our cells’ DNA. This damage occurs in distinctive patterns – known as mutational ‘fingerprints’ – which are unique to the cause of that damage.
Right now, scientists have found around 50 of these ‘fingerprints’ that are linked to cancer. But they only know what causes around half of them.
Professor Sir Mike Stratton from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, and his team of scientists from the UK, France and the US, together with collaborators from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), want to fill in the missing gaps.
In a project of epic scale that spans 5 continents, Professor Stratton’s team aim to build a deeper understanding of what causes DNA damage and how it leads to cancer.
Their work could help prevent more cancers and reduce the global burden of this disease.
Read more about the team’s research

Creating Virtual Reality Maps of Tumours

Professor Greg Hannon – Using computerised 3D tumours and virtual reality to better understand cancer
To fully understand cancer, scientists need to know everything about a tumour – what types of cells are in it, how many there are and where they are located in the tumour.
But getting such a precise picture of tumours is extremely difficult to do. So difficult that it’s not been done before.
Professor Greg Hannon, based at our Cambridge Institute, and his team of scientists, computer experts and virtual reality developers from the UK, Canada, Switzerland, the US and Ireland want to change this.
Combining established techniques with new technology, Professor Hannon’s team will build 3D tumours containing every cell in them, which can be studied using virtual reality.
This new way of studying breast cancer could change how the disease is diagnosed, treated and managed.
Read more about the team’s research

Preventing Unnecessary Breast Cancer Treatment

Dr Jelle Wesseling – Finding ways to spare women unnecessary treatment
Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is a condition that sometimes develops into breast cancer.
But right now, doctors can’t tell whether women with DCIS will go on to develop breast cancer or not. This means that, unfortunately, some women with DCIS undergo hospital visits, surgery and even chemotherapy and radiotherapy that they don’t need.
Through their Grand Challenge project, Dr Jelle Wesseling, based at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, and his team of scientists from the UK, the Netherlands and the US want to change this, and stop women getting unnecessary treatment.
By studying tissue samples from women with DCIS (a condition which can sometimes develop into breast cancer), Dr Wesseling’s team aims to determine how to distinguish between those who need treatment and those who don’t, which could spare thousands of women unnecessary treatment.
Read more about the team’s research

Studying Tumour Metabolism from Every Angle

Dr Josephine Bunch – Develop a ‘Google Earth’ for tumours to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment
In the same way cartographers make maps of cities, countries and the world to help people get around, scientists use microscopes, gene-sequencing technology and a host of other techniques to build maps of tumours. The goal is to better understand the inner workings of tumours, in the hope this will lead to new ways to diagnose and treat cancer.
Through their Grand Challenge project, Dr Josephine Bunch, from the National Physical Laboratory in London and her team of UK and US-based scientists, want to change this. Using their expertise they aim to find a way to fully map different tumours in unprecedented detail. And they aim to ensure that all labs and hospitals around the world will be able to use their technology to do the same.
Using various new mass spectrometry imaging techniques, the team led by Dr Bunch will develop a new way to map tumours in unprecedented detail – from the whole tumour to the individual molecules in cells.
The work could lead to new ways to diagnose and treat cancer.
Read more about the team’s research
Dr Klausner added that one of the reasons these teams stood out was their willingness to work together, combining the expertise of scientists from different disciplines in each team:

We’re now at a point in cancer research where we realise that to solve the remaining problems, scientists from different disciplines have to come together.
Chemists, biologists, physicists, computer programmers, data analysers, people working in labs and people in the clinic must all join forces. Other funding schemes recognise this, and encourage scientists to collaborate. But the Grand Challenge is unique in that it doesn’t just encourage scientists to form such alliances, it requires them to.
These 4 winning teams have more than met that requirement. They have brought together experts from around the world, and from different scientific disciplines, to solve some of the biggest problems we face in cancer research.
Problems that if solved, will dramatically change our approach to the disease, and our ability to study, prevent, diagnose and treat it.


New Challenges will be Announced in Summer 2017

Applications will open for round 2 in summer 2017

Grand Challenge allows teams of researchers from around the world to come together to solve some of the toughest challenges in cancer. The size of the award allows teams to be ambitious and create new collaborations that would otherwise not be possible.
We expect your team will comprise of:

  • Multiple Co-Investigators
  • More than one country (at least 25% of the team should be from outside of the UK)
  • Complementary disciplines
  • More than one organisation (academic or commercial)

We are looking for applications that:

  • Have the potential to unlock new thinking
  • Are pioneering, novel and bold
  • Include truly unique collaborations
  • Couldn’t be achieved without this level of funding


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