New research to revolutionise understanding of lung cancer

19 July 2013

Professor Charles Swanton

Researchers at UCL and University College London Hospital NHS Foundation Trust are involved in a landmark study to unlock the secrets of lung cancer, tracking in real time how lung tumours develop and evolve as patients receive treatment.

This is one of the largest ever studies of lung cancer patients globally and over nine years it will examine exactly how lung cancers mutate, adapt and become resistant to treatments.

The study - called TRACERx (Tracking Cancer Evolution through Therapy) – has been launched by Cancer Research UK and will recruit 850 lung cancer patients from across the UK and take samples of their tumour before and following surgery and subsequently if the disease recurs.

Biopsies will be taken from different parts of each patient’s tumour and analysed with the latest technology to give a more comprehensive genetic profile. Different parts of a tumour can evolve independently, so a sample from one region alone might contain different genetic changes to another sample, elsewhere in the tumour. Patients will also have blood tests to examine DNA from the cancer that might be circulating in the bloodstream.

We plan to harness new sequencing technologies to trace the genetic evolution of cancer over the course of the disease. Our research will help explain why lung cancer is difficult to treat, and steer a path towards saving more lives.

Professor Charles Swanton, UCL Cancer Institute

Researchers will then be able to compare genetic changes within and between patients, record how the treatment changes the genetic profile of their disease, and how this ultimately affects the patients’ chances of survival.

The combination of these techniques will give an unprecedented insight into lung cancer and allow researchers to identify and understand the precise genetic makeup of lung cancers. The results will also lay the foundations for being able to offer patients treatment that is tailored to the specific genetic makeup of their cancer.

University College London Hospital NHS Foundation Trust will be leading the thoracic surgery for the research.

Professor Charles Swanton, lead researcher at the UCL Cancer Institute, said: “Success in treating lung cancer has been difficult to achieve but we’re hoping to change that. The first step to improving cancer diagnosis and treatment is to understand more about the disease and how it changes over time.

"Research has led us to this point when, after decades of earlier work, we can look to the future with real optimism. We plan to harness new sequencing technologies to trace the genetic evolution of cancer over the course of the disease. Our research will help explain why lung cancer is difficult to treat, and steer a path towards saving more lives.”

Professor Sam Janes, Lung Cancer Pathway Director at London Cancer said: “This is a huge commitment to lung cancer research from Cancer Research UK and it’s great that Professor Charlie Swanton at UCL will be running this with London Cancer at the lead. Patients undergoing surgery at University College Hospital will have their cancer checked for mutated genes before and after any accompanying chemotherapy. Through this work we hope to be able to understand why some patients respond to chemotherapy and why some don’t.”

Other research centres taking part in the study are: Velindre Cancer Centre Cardiff, Birmingham University Hospital, Leicester Hospital, Cancer Research UK’s Paterson Institute for Cancer Research at The University of Manchester, The Christie Hospital in Manchester and University Hospital South Manchester and the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Around 42,000 people are diagnosed with lung cancer in the UK every year, with around 35,000 deaths from the disease. TRACERx will help to improve the understanding of the disease and ultimately the outlook for patients and their families.

-Ends-


Media contact: UCL Press Office

Image caption: Professor Charles Swanton, UCL Cancer Institute


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