Success of staff in UCL Cancer Institute

17 March 2010

Dr Chrissie Thirlwell and Dr Mohid Khan (UCL Cancer Institute and Royal Free Hospital Neuroendocrine Tumour Unit) were awarded first prize for the best scientific and clinical research respectively at the 7th Annual ENETS Conference for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Neuroendocrine Tumor Disease. Approximately 1400 delegates attended the event held in Berlin from 11-12 March.  

During the conference Dr Thirlwell, a NIHR clinical lecturer in medical oncology, presented pioneering work on the epigenetics of neuroendocrine tumours (NETs) conducted in Professor Stephan Beck’s laboratory.  In her preliminary work she has defined patterns of genome-wide promoter methylation for subgroups NET as well as developing a novel method for performing array based methylation analysis on paraffin embedded tissue. Dr Thirlwell’s work is supported by the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Foundation (which also funds the Royal Free NET BioBank) and the Wellcome Trust.

Dr Khan, a clinical research fellow, presented his data on the detection of circulating tumour cells (CTCs) in patients with NET performed in Dr Tim Meyer’s laboratory.  CTCs have not previously been reported in NETs and Dr Khan’s initial work suggests that their presence may be an important prognostic factor that will help to define therapy. Dr Khan’s work is supported by the charity ‘Bottoms Up’, The “Quiet Cancer Therapy” charity and the UCL Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre. 

Both projects were carried out at the UCL Cancer Institute and are a result of the development of the “UCL Academic Neuroendocrine Tumour Programme” developed across UCL by Professor Martyn Caplin. This is an increasingly productive collaboration between the Institute and the Royal Free NET Unit.

Neuroendocrine tumours are relatively rare but the Royal Free Hospital, under the leadership of Professor Martyn Caplin, has become one of the largest Neuroendocrine Centres in the world and recently was awarded the status of European Centre of Excellence, the first in the UK and one of only six in Europe.

Commenting on this success, Professor Chris Boshoff (Director, UCL Cancer Institute), said: "The Cancer Institute has identified neuroendocrine cancers as an area to develop with the large clinical practice at the Royal Free Hospital.  These are rare and understudied malignancies. The collaboration between this group of clinical and non-clinical scientists has been highly successful, and also attracted significant philanthropic funding, including funds from the Sackler Foundation."