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What goes on in the labs?
4:32pm Wednesday 16th July 2008 in Race For Life News
MANY of the cancer treatments used in Britain's hospitals come from work at the Cancer Research UK Clinical Centre in Southampton. But what goes on in the laboratories and how are the seemingly abstract discoveries turned into treatments for people with cancer?
■ Scientists at the Southampton unit are involved in two main types of research funded by large grants from research councils and the money you raise for Cancer Research UK.
■ Basic research looks at why cells become cancerous and how tumours start. This also involves understanding how our immune systems can be used to defend against the disease.
Scientists are currently working hard to develop cancer vaccines with the hope of one day being able to prevent the disease.
■ Translational research takes discoveries made in the laboratory into clinical settings. Southampton is famous for its clinical trials with new cancer treatments and with existing drugs used in different settings.
■ Southampton is at the head of a large network of clinical trials. Completely new treatments - some little more than biological interventions - are tested on small groups of cancer patients for the first time.
Other trials using hundreds of cancer patients test the effectiveness of existing drugs and more highly developed treatments.
Approved drugs are compared with one another and tested on different kinds of cancers to see how well they work.
■ Breakthroughs in the laboratory and in clinical trials can make the difference between life and death for cancer patients.
■ Cancer vaccines using DNA from tumours are currently being tested on people with cancer. Scientists hope that by introducing the DNA into the patients' bodies, their immune systems will recognise cancerous cells and prevent cancer returning after surgery.
■ Clinical trials have shown that high-grade breast tumours respond best to a combination of drugs. This discovery is crucial for more effective breast cancer treatment.
■ Research into the genetic causes of cancer has led to the discovery of a "breast cancer gene" for a small percentage of breast cancers. Identifying which women will develop the disease means treatment - and ultimately prevention - can be delivered swiftly.
■ A group of scientists at Southampton are studying how a group of white blood cells known as suppressor cells can inhibit our immune system's ability to recognise tumours.
■ They think removing these cells in a vaccine setting may help our immune system to detect a cancerous tumour.
This information is useful for inventing vaccines.
■ Southampton scientists have discovered that DNA vaccines delivered with a small electric shock give better responses.
■ Clinical trials in lymphoma have shown new types of antibody are an important part of treatment.
■ Scientists at Southampton are now under way with trials to use a new antibody to stimulate the immune system within the body.
■ A new type of drug is being developed at Southampton to alter which genes turn on and off in cancerous cells. This could be a very promising new treatment in the future.