Sarcoma research – a momentum for change | Sarcoma UK

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Since we awarded our very first grants in 2009, our research programme has come a long way.

Supporting the best and the brightest minds in the sarcoma research community, Sarcoma UK has funded 63 research grants, investing a total of £4.3 million. Substantial grants, major new trials, and new treatments have all demonstrated advances in science at a time when supporters have told us that research is their top priority.

Over the last 10 years, we’ve invested in groundbreaking laboratory research, piecing together the biological mechanisms of sarcoma so we can identify it earlier and treat it effectively.

One of the most significant developments has been our transformational £1 million Genomics Research Programme launched in 2018; key to unlocking the secrets of sarcoma and developing new treatments. Professor Adrienne Flanagan was awarded the first £250,000 grant for a study of the world’s largest collection of sarcoma samples. This study has already spurred over £2.5 million in further research funding.

Further genomics project grants have now been awarded to the University of Birmingham and the University of Southampton, using cutting-edge technology to analyse the faults in single cells and taking the first steps to translating our new genomics knowledge to the clinic. Through our core research programme, we have supported 13 PhD projects in laboratories across the UK. We’ve also seen many small grants go on to have a large impact. For instance, our investment of £23,000 to Professor Gonzalez de Castro at Queen’s University, Belfast, has led to the development of a new blood test that could have the potential to diagnose soft tissue sarcoma twice as effectively as current methods.

Our clinical research programme has enabled us to invest in projects which can make an immediate difference to people with sarcoma. In recognition of our founder, we launched the Roger Wilson Research Award, which supports leading clinical research projects in areas of priority for sarcoma patients. Five years on, this latest award enabled us to support the EORTC STRASS II trial, an innovative international trial improving treatment for retroperitoneal sarcoma.

As we look ahead to the next five years, our research programme will evolve for us to make the most progress for people affected by sarcoma. We will build new collaborations with other charities as well as integrating with the research community. We are already bringing patients into the heart of our research programme, to ensure that our investments truly reflect the priorities of those affected by sarcoma, including pushing for early diagnosis and better treatments.

We hope that our research funding will serve as a catalyst to unlock further sources of financial support, enabling researchers to expand their work and ultimately translate their findings into patient benefit.

‘Our supporters told us that research is their top priority. They want us to invest in hope for the future. As a link between the patient community and the scientific community, Sarcoma UK can be the catalyst for change.’

Dr Sorrel Bickley, Director of Research, Policy and Support 

‘Our supporters told us that research is their top priority. They want us to invest in hope for the future. As a link between the patient community and the scientific community, Sarcoma UK can be the catalyst for change.’

Dr Sorrel Bickley, Director of Research, Policy and Support 

Our early funding of genetic research

With early diagnosis a key focus for Sarcoma UK, one way of improving this is knowing who is more likely to develop sarcoma because of their genes.

 In 2011, Sarcoma UK gave Dr Beatrice Seddon and Professor Ian Judson a grant of £40,000 to set up a UK arm of the International Sarcoma Kindred Study (ISKS). This initiative, first established by researchers in Australia, created a register of genetic information from people with sarcomas and their families.

Along with the UK, 20 other sites around the world contributed to ISKS. In 2016, Dr Seddon and Professor Judson were co-authors on a paper using data collected from over 1,000 people across the globe.

Their findings revealed that about half of people with sarcoma are born with genetic mutations that put them at increased risk. This major breakthrough showed for the first time that the landscape of sarcoma risk is complex, and involves the combined effect of multiple genes. They also discovered some genes that could be potential targets for treatments with new or existing drugs, potentially helping to identify the best possible treatments for individual patients and opening the door to personalised care.

Improving quality of life through technology

An initial investment from Sarcoma UK into a six-month innovative technology project has unlocked a major new avenue of research and led to additional funding.

Following treatment, many sarcoma patients can have difficulties with physical tasks such as walking or climbing stairs, often putting them at risk of poorer health. In 2012, Sarcoma UK awarded a £30,000 pilot project to Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospital to use movement tracking technologies to tackle this issue. By using video game technology linked to simple daily activities such as standing or walking, the team could explore how best to support people going through rehabilitation after surgery.

The original project has now led to almost £90,000 of further funding in how to use tracking technology in this way. Researchers hope to use this information to create new outcome measures for clinical practice and improve patients’ quality of life after treatment.

Predicting how a patient might respond to a treatment would be game-changing for sarcoma.

Predicting how a patient might respond to a treatment would be game-changing for sarcoma.

Mark Elms – our first PhD student

Mark Elms was one of the first students supported by Sarcoma UK when our PhD studentship programme started in 2016. His studentship was the first Sayako Grace Robinson Studentship – an annual award of a PhD studentship in sarcoma basic science in memory of Sayako Grace Robinson, who died of angiosarcoma in 2014. Mark is now in the final year of his PhD at the Institute of Cancer Research.

His research project set out to discover the biological features of soft tissue sarcoma to understand why some patients don’t respond, or become resistant to, chemotherapy drugs such as pazopanib and regorafenib.

Mark found that for those who develop resistance to pazopanib, a different drug might be effective. To build on these important findings, he is working on understanding the molecular pathways which make people resistant to pazopanib.

Many sarcoma treatments can only work well for a short time, or not work at all for some patients. Predicting how a patient might respond to a treatment would be game-changing for sarcoma, leading to kinder, more effective treatments and less crucial time wasted.

Download the Sarcoma UK 10 Year Impact Report as a PDF

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