Cancer which starts in the bones is typically more aggressive than other types and some forms are both chemotherapy and radiotherapy resistant. In these cases surgery is the only option, and survival rates have not improved in the last 25 years.
It is hoped that a new ‘fingerstick’ blood test could make diagnosis quicker for those at high risk – and if caught early, reduce the severity of amputation.
The project is being led by PhD student Darrell Green, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School. He said: “We will be focusing on primary bone cancer – which means cancer that has originated in the bones, rather than secondary bone cancer which has spread to the bones from other parts of the body.
“We are studying Chondrosarcoma – an incredibly unpredictable form of bone cancer that can develop at any age. With a new case every other day in the UK, we need to develop tools to understand its biology, diagnose it earlier and treat it far better.
“In most, if not all cases, surgery is the only option and unfortunately this means limb amputation. Even with this drastic surgery, recurrence of the tumour is extremely common and overall survival rates are low – with only 10 per cent of patients living a year in the most aggressive cases.
“While researching the normal function and development of cells which this cancer originates from, we observed a family of small molecules called microRNAs which potentially play a role in causing cancerous change.
“MicroRNAs are found in all our cells and they control the level at which our genes are active or switched off. They were recently discovered to be 'leaked' from tumour cells into the bloodstream, therefore they are also very promising biomarkers of disease.”
The £71,000 Big C research grant will allow the team to investigate the role of microRNAs in chondrosarcoma and develop a simple ‘fingerstick’ blood test for those at risk of being diagnosed. This test is cheap, non-invasive and could also work to diagnose other cancers.
Nikki Morris, head of Clinical Services at Big C, said: "We are delighted to fund this work which is aimed at earlier diagnosis resulting in minimising the impact of the cancer and its treatment. Research is at the forefront of all that Big C strives to do – making a difference for those affected by cancer in Norfolk. As with much of the research that Big C funds this has the potential to be of international significance as well as a precursor to further research thereby increasing the knowledge we all have in order to tackle this disease in the most effective way possible."
The research project will be led by researchers at UEA’s Norwich Medical School and School of Biological Sciences, with collaboration from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham.