UCL News


UCL supports Cancer Prevention Week (11-15 May)

11 May 2009

Raising public awareness Laura Marlow, research psychologist at the Health Behaviour Research Centre (UCL Epidemiology & Public Health) "Many cancers are now believed to be preventable through lifestyle changes and Cancer Prevention Week is a good opportunity for us to raise awareness of how individuals can take responsibility for reducing their risk of cancer.

UCL   This can involve changing behaviours related to diet, exercise and smoking, and there are also national screening programmes in the UK for breast, bowel and cervical cancer.

"Cervical cancer has recently received a lot of press coverage following the diagnosis, treatment and death of Jade Goody, and public health professionals have reported that the story has led to a huge increase in demand for smear tests.

"Researchers at the Health Behaviour Research Centre have been working with the Daily Mirror to develop a survey exploring attitudes towards the Jade Goody story, awareness of cervical cancer and attitudes towards screening. The aim of the survey is to gain some insight into cervical cancer awareness and attitudes in a group of people who were particularly interested in Jade's story, and to try to understand why her story has had such an impact on screening behaviour. The study findings will be published in the Daily Mirror at the end of May 2009.

"This work fits into the profile of the centre's work in cancer communication and screening, focusing on enhancement of the public's understanding of cancer and promoting public engagement with cancer screening, and other forms of prevention and early detection.

"The overall objectives of this aspect of the centre's work are to increase public awareness of cancer risk factors, how cancer develops and the potential for cancer prevention, and to maximise screening participation. The main research contexts are colorectal cancer screening, cervical cancer screening and human papillomavirus testing and vaccination."

Visit the Health Behaviour Research Centre for more work on cancer communication and screening programmes.


Genetic breakthrough for neuroblastoma sufferers

Dr Arturo Sala (UCL Institute of Child Health) has identified that the common gene clusterin, present in most human tissues and body fluids, is key to preventing the neuroblastoma tumour in children.

Neuroblastoma is the most common extra-cranial solid tumour in childhood and 90% of cases occur in children under five. The tumour is the third most common cause of cancer deaths in children and accounts for the highest rate of cancer fatalities among babies. It is rarer and less well-known than leukaemia despite the very high rate of fatalities.

The study, published in the prestigious Journal of the National Cancer Institute in April 2009, confirms that in neuroblastoma, expression of clusterin is repressed by the cancer gene MYCN, which is typically activated in this childhood malignancy.

Dr Sala commented: "When expression of clusterin was artificially restored in cultured neuroblastoma cells, these were not malignant and could not form tumours during laboratory experiments. This strongly suggests that clusterin can effectively suppress tumour growth."

Dr Sala's team are now investigating whether the drugs that cause reactivation of clusterin expression in aggressive neuroblastomas can stop the growth of the cancer. 

Aggressive neuroblatoma affects between 80 and 100 children a year in the UK, with a fatality level of more than 50%. It also fails to respond as well to the intensive treatments that have reduced fatality rates among other childhood cancers, including leukaemia.

Dr Sala hopes to be begin human clinical trials in about three years and believes that the clusterin breakthrough could also prove a key in tackling other cancers, including prostate cancer.


UCL Context: Cancer research at UCL

Many UCL departments are involved in investigating the causes and treatments for a variety cancers. The UCL Cancer Institute, opened in 2007, brings together cancer research across UCL and its partner hospitals. Because it brings together a number of research groups under one roof, the institute is able to provide services, instrumentation and technological expertise available to many individual research groups. In 2007, the institute received a generous contribution of £2 million from the Wolfson Foundation to expand its current core facilities.

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