UCL News


UCL scientists to receive seed funding for most pressing cancer challenges

21 June 2021

Nine UCL scientists have been shortlisted to work on some of the world’s toughest cancer problems, as part of the £80 million Cancer Grand Challenges.

cancer institute

In October 2020, Cancer Grand Challenges, founded by Cancer Research UK and the US National Cancer Institute, dared the global research community to take on nine of cancer’s most pressing issues.

The eight research themes taken forward were: Cachexia (a disorder that causes extreme weight loss and muscle wasting, and can include loss of body fat), e-cigarettes, extrachromosomal DNA, inflammation, macromolecules, normal phenotypes, senescence (the condition or process of deterioration with age), solid tumours in children.

Almost 170 teams across 61 countries submitted bold, innovative ideas, and Cancer Grand Challenges has now announced the 11 teams selected to compete for a share of £80m.  

Each team will now receive seed funding to get their ideas off the ground and make their full proposal. Winners will receive £20m and the freedom to unite above boundaries to unleash their scientific creativity. 

UCL scientists feature in six of the 11 teams shortlisted. 

Dr Martin Pule (UCL Cancer Institute), is co-lead for Team NGTC: Next Generation T cell therapies for childhood cancers. The UCL Translational Research Office (TRO) supported application involves an international team of researchers co-led by Dr Catherine Bollard, (George Washington University Children’s National Hospital) and including from UCL, Professor Sergio Quezada (UCL Cancer Institute), Professor Karen Page (UCL Mathematics), Professor Marc-Olivier Coppens (UCL Chemical Engineering) and Dr Karin Straathof (UCL Great Ormond Institute for Child Health).

Research theme: Solid Tumours in Children

Summary: To develop effective, kinder treatments for children with solid tumours, we must explore new therapeutic approaches. The NGTC team’s vision is to bring engineered T cell therapies to the routine treatment of these children, within a decade.  

Dr Mariam Jamal-Hanjani (UCL Cancer Institute), co-investigator on Team CANCAN: CANcer Cachexia Action Network. The application involves international researchers, led by Dr Eileen White (Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, US).

Research theme: Cachexia

Summary: While fruitful, cancer cachexia research to date has yielded no effective therapies. The CANCAN team plans to take a new approach, guided by their central hypothesis: that cachexia is driven by the tumour itself, activating neurohormonal sickness pathways that lead to anorexia, metabolic dysfunction and tissue wasting.

Dr Mariam Jamal-Hanjani, (UCL Cancer Institute), co-investigator on Team eDyNAmiC: extrachromosomal DNA in Cancer. An international research team is led by Professor Paul Mischel (Stanford University).

Research theme: Extrachromosomal DNA

Summary: Understanding the biology of ecDNA generation and action, and developing new ways to target these mechanisms in cancer 

Dr Lion Shahab, (UCL Institute of Epidemiology & Health), co-investigator on Team IC-PIECE: International Consortium for the Population Impact of Electronic CigarEttes. The team is led by Professor Ann McNeill (King’s Colle London) and Professor Peter Shields (Ohio State University, US).

Research theme: E-cigarettes

Summary: A global effort to determine the population impact of e-cigarettes. The team hopes to address a major barrier to e-cigarette research: the need for additional rigorous, multidisciplinary studies to generate high quality international data sets.

Dr Laura Donovan and Dr Karin Straathof (both UCL Great Ormond Institute for Child Health) and are co-investigators on Team The Virtual Child. The team is led by Professor Dr Stefan Pfister (German Cancer Research Centre) and Professor Richard Gilbertson (University of Cambridge)

Research theme: Solid Tumours in Children

Summary: The first ever learning and data-driven computer model of normal and cancerous nervous system development, to support biological and therapeutic discovery.

Professor Juan Pedro Martinez-Barbera (UCL Great Ormond Institute for Child Health), co-investigator, Team T-SMAC: Targeting Senescence Mechanisms to Arrest Cancer. The international team is led by Professor Scott Lowe (Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, US), Professor Manuel Serrano (Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Spain) and Professor Jesus Gil (Imperial College London).

Research theme: Senescence

Summary: Improving the mechanistic understanding and detection of senescence to realise its potential in cancer treatment



  • Research at UCL Cancer Institute: Credit UCL Imagestore

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