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A multi-disciplinary team of scientists, including Dr Claire Edwards from the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences, has been shortlisted to the final stages of Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge – an ambitious series of £20m global grants tackling some of the toughest questions in cancer research.

The team, led by Professor Peter Croucher at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, involves researchers at the University of Oxford, Garvan, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the University of Adelaide in Australia, as well as Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, the Babraham Institute (UK), Yale University (USA) and Washington University (USA).

The international collaboration, collectively called team InSIGHT (slaying the buried giant) aims to address the challenge of dormancy – when cancer returns after seemingly successful treatment due to dormant cancer cells that take refuge in other parts of the body. The team will focus on dormant breast cancer cells found in bones. Breast cancer is responsible for over 55,000 new diagnoses in the UK each year. Secondary breast cancer tumours are found in bones more than anywhere else in the body, indicating it is a preferred location for dormant breast cancer cells. Currently little is understood about treatment-resistant dormant cells, the team aims to examine them in fine molecular detail and hopefully uncover weaknesses that could help to beat more cancers for good.

The Reik group will primarily focus on changes to the cancer epigenome – the reversible chemical changes in cells that regulate gene activity throughout the genome. They will contribute their world-leading expertise in understanding large-scale epigenomics during development and disease. The group have developed techniques to study the epigenome of single cells, which can be used to uncover hidden variation within a group of cells. This has contributed to the discovery of several key mechanisms involved in epigenome reprogramming. Using these techniques, the team will examine epigenome reprogramming in cancer and attempt to identify rare markers that could be used to help detect dormant cells.

The InSIGHT team will receive seed-funding of up to £30,000 from Cancer Research UK to draft their full research proposal, and the winning proposal will be announced in autumn 2018.

The Grand Challenge award aims to revolutionise how we diagnose, prevent and treat cancer by providing international multi-disciplinary teams the freedom to try novel approaches, at scale, in the pursuit of life changing discoveries.

This is the second round of Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge award and last year four teams were awarded up to £20 million each.

Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said: “Round two of Grand Challenge is proving to be incredibly inspiring and the ambitious applications reflect the quality of global researchers this initiative has attracted to beat cancer sooner. We’re delighted with the teams we’ve shortlisted and look forward to hearing more about how they plan to tackle the toughest challenges in cancer research.”

Dr Rick Klausner, chair of Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge advisory panel, said: “The challenges set for Grand Challenge have once again attracted some of the best researchers in the world. I’m looking forward to see how global collaboration could bring together diverse expertise, invigorate areas of research, and overcome barriers in ways that aren’t happening at this point in time.”

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