Science Bursary students in cancer discovery

Two Nuffield Foundation Science Bursary students have been instrumental in a discovery that could help scientists better understand how to block cancer growth.

Tom Hutchings and Georgina Steel were part of a University of Bath research team that has shed light on how a common class of painkillers – which includes ibuprofen – may interact with a key protein that fuels the growth of many different types of cancer.

The project was funded by Cancer Research UK and results are being is published in the journal Chemical Communications today.

Ibuprofen is one of several profens – a particular group of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – being investigated for their ability to prevent cancer.

The research team, lead by Dr Matthew Lloyd, carried out an analysis of drugs in the same class as ibuprofen and discovered that they are all processed by the body in exactly the same way – through a protein called AMACR, which converts the drug into its active form.

AMACR is overactive in almost all prostate cancers, some bowel cancers and several other types of cancer and is thought to fuel the growth of the disease by boosting the cell’s energy supply.

So understanding how drugs like ibuprofen might alter AMACR activity could help scientists better understand how they are able to block cancer growth.

Lead author Dr Matthew Lloyd, said: “Our study is the first to test other drugs in the same family as ibuprofen systematically and show that they‘re all processed by the same protein in the body. Some early laboratory studies have suggested that high doses of ibuprofen can halt the growth of prostate cancer cells, but the reasons for this aren’t well understood.

“Understanding more about how this protein is acting in cells and what molecules it interacts with could provide important clues to how this process works, hopefully opening up new avenues of research for treating prostate cancer in the future.”

Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: “This research is part of an international effort to understand how drugs like ibuprofen could prevent, or slow down, the development of cancer. But there are risks as well as benefits and long term use of these drugs can have side effects, such as bleeding and stomach ulcers. Understanding more about how these drugs work on a molecular level is a crucial step in being able to develop better targeted drugs with fewer side effects in future.”

About our Science Bursary Students

Tom Hutchings and Georgina Steel were part of the research team at the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology at the University of Bath during the summer of 2010. Both Tom and Georgina had received bursaries from the Nuffield Foundation – Tom’s was an Undergraduate Research Bursary and Georgina’s was a Science Bursary for Schools & Colleges.

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We improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in EducationWelfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We offer our grant-holders the freedom to frame questions and enable new thinking. Our research must stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny, but we understand that to be successful in effecting change, it also needs to be relevant to people’s experience.

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