Scientists at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute and the University of Glasgow are to receive £1.9m to explore the causes of a debilitating wasting disease that many people experience in the later stages of cancer.

The funding is from Cancer Grand Challenges, a research initiative co-founded by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute in the US, which aims to encourage the world’s leading researchers to tackle the toughest challenges faced by cancer patients.

Dr David Lewis, of the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, and Dr Oliver Maddocks, of the University of Glasgow, will work within CANCAN1 (CANcer Cachexia Action Network) to explore the underpinning mechanisms behind cancer cachexia.

Cachexia is a syndrome characterised by poor appetite and extensive weight loss from both skeletal muscle and fatty tissue, which is not well understood.

It is hoped further research can help develop new treatments to improve quality of life for cancer patients and set the standard for cachexia management around the world.

Dr David Lewis leads a team of researchers at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow which focuses on developing better ways to image cancer.

He will be using state-of the-art imaging technologies to visualise metabolic abnormalities during cachexia development.

These imaging methods offer new insights into the causes of cachexia and provide ways to identify and characterise cachexia early offering the best chance of managing the condition effectively.

Dr Lewis said: “The new technologies we now have available for metabolic imaging bring an unprecedented opportunity to image total-body metabolic rewiring during cachexia.

“This means we can now image the whole patient from head-to-toe so we can see cross talk between different organs that was not possible before.

“I am ecstatic about being in such an exciting international team. Cachexia touches on nearly every system in the body – so our CANCAN team comprises a diverse range of expertise to tackle cachexia from the cancer itself to metabolism, neuroendocrinology and immunology.”

The CANCAN team is among four winning teams announced in the latest round of Cancer Grand Challenges – a ground-breaking £425m research initiative co-founded by Cancer Research UK and the National Cancer Institute in the US.

The other teams are NextTGen2, led by US and UK researchers including academics at Cardiff University, which aims to develop effective and kinder treatments for childhood solid cancers, including sarcomas and brain tumours by bringing engineered T cell therapies to the routine treatment of these children within a decade; eDyNAmiC3 which will investigate new ways to combat treatment resistant cancers; and PROMINENT4 which aims to create a roadmap of tumour development.

According to the World Health Organisation, cancer is the second leading cause of death around the world5 and growing all the time, claiming almost 10 million lives a year and accounting for 1 in 5 deaths worldwide6.

This means the world is witnessing a growing cancer burden that exerts tremendous physical, emotional and financial strain on individuals, families, communities and national healthcare systems.

Cancer is a worldwide issue that needs a global effort to tackle, and Cancer Grand Challenges’ unique model of collaboration facilitates researchers from around the world to come together across traditional boundaries of geography and disciplines, encouraging them to think differently and drive progress in pursuit of some of cancer’s toughest challenges.

This major investment of four £20m awards into global team science will advance our understanding of cancer in a way that could not be achieved by working alone, leading to new advances for people with cancer, including those with the greatest unmet clinical need – such as children with solid tumours, people whose cancer has become resistant to treatment and people who develop cachexia.

Cancer Research UK Chief Clinician and Cancer Grand Challenges scientific committee member, Professor Charles Swanton, said: “I’ve seen first-hand the extreme weight loss and lethargy that patients experience from cancer cachexia and the need to develop treatments with less side effects, which also combat resistance and spread. That’s why I am so excited that we are funding these challenges because they have the potential to have a massive, positive impact for patients.”

Cancer Research UK Chief Executive Michelle Mitchell said: “We have seen over the last year how the world’s best scientists and researchers transcended borders to tackle Covid 19 and in a similar way, Cancer Grand Challenges shows how global partnerships with shared aspirations can power change.
“This global community is taking our research way beyond the boundaries of what is currently known to completely new frontiers in science, where we are finding new and improved ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, to make it a disease people no longer die from.”