AN acclaimed academic from the University of Dundee is set to benefit from a new million-dollar international award to help find more effective treatments with fewer side effects for Ewing’s sarcoma – a rare type of cancer that mainly affects children and young people.

Professor Kevin Hiom, from the University’s School of Medicine, will jointly lead a transatlantic team of scientists who were awarded a Paediatric Cancer New Discoveries Challenge award of almost $1million, approximately £770,000.

The awards are a collaboration between Stand Up To Cancer in the US and Cancer Research UK’s own Stand Up To Cancer initiative to accelerate the development of new treatments for some of the rarest and hardest-to-treat cancers in children and young people.

Ewing’s sarcoma affects the bones or the soft tissue around them. If caught early, most patients can be treated successfully, but the side effects of the chemotherapies can continue to impact young people for the rest of their lives. Sadly, for some patients with Ewing’s sarcoma, particularly if the disease has spread, their cancer doesn’t respond to the current treatments. 

Professor Hiom welcomed the award, saying: “It is an ambitious goal, but we hope this research could lead to new treatments for Ewing’s sarcoma that aren’t as tough on young people as the ones we use now, and maybe new treatments that could help more young people to survive this rare cancer in the future.

“The award is also proud recognition of Dundee’s reputation as a world leader in biomedical research, one that offers unique opportunities. We’re proud to have been awarded this funding from Stand Up To Cancer and Cancer Research UK, and we’re looking forward to bringing our expertise to a global team to help more young people across the world with this devastating disease.”

HeraldScotland:

RESEARCH FUNDING: Professor Kevin Hiom, from Dundee  University’s School of Medicine.

The team of scientists from Dundee, the University of Texas in San Antonio, and the City of Hope Cancer Center in Los Angeles will look to build on recent discoveries they have made about how Ewing’s sarcoma affects the cellular machinery in the body to develop new treatments that could help more children and young people survive the disease with a better quality of life.

Professor Hiom explained, “Our studies have shown that the genetic malfunction that leads to Ewing’s sarcoma drives cells to start decoding their DNA much more rapidly. This causes ‘knots’ to form in the DNA, which puts the cells under stress and gets in the way of the cell functioning normally, so it becomes a cancer cell.

“Our research is focused on these DNA ‘knots’. We want to see if we can find a way to make the cancer cells form more of these ‘knots’, to put the cells under so much stress that they die. Our hope is that this approach could result in more effective treatments with fewer side effects, by targeting this particular part of the cell machinery, rather than the whole cell, which is how the conventional treatments for this disease work.”

The funding has been welcomed by the family of Grace Newton, of Falkirk, who was just five when diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma on February 21 2014. Following her diagnosis, Grace’s parents, Janet and Mark, waited anxiously as she endured a 10-hour operation to remove a tumour that was discovered in her right arm. Grace completed her 14th and final cycle of chemotherapy in 2016 after 118 doses of drugs and more than 40 blood and platelet transfusions.

Now a 12-year-old high school pupil, Grace has her heart set on a career in nursing so she can help other people going through cancer.

“We definitely welcome new research and hope it will lead to less harsh treatments for youngsters diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma,” said Janet.

“Even now Grace’s immunity is lower than other people of her age and she still gets pain in her arm and shoulder.

“As well as the physical changes to the body that cancer treatment can bring, there are also mental wellbeing side effects. It would be great to see in the future better treatments which are not only life-saving but are gentler too. We had a fantastic medical team and were so grateful for the treatment that saved Grace’s life. Grace’s main tumour was removed and she had a 98% response to chemotherapy which was considered excellent. Grace has three small tumours remaining on her lungs. Doctors keep a close eye on them, but they’re considered stable and inactive. 

“But the treatment was challenging and pushed things to the limit. It wasn’t just the side effects that people expect, like her hair falling out.

At one point, Grace’s kidney function was so low doctors told us they were almost non-functioning. We were lucky that as Grace got better, her body recovered. It was a delicate balancing act for doctors to get rid of the cancer but keep Grace’s body working well.”

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Cures could stem from Edinburgh research 

AN international philanthropist has announced a major commitment to the University of Edinburgh to boost research into tissue regeneration and repair.

The £2 million gift from Martin KS Lee – a director of the Lee Shau Kee Foundation in Hong Kong - will support teams combating major diseases such as heart and lung disease, liver disease, diabetes, cancer and neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.

HeraldScotland:

WELCOME DONATION: Edinburgh University received the £2 million gift from the Lee Shau Kee (pictured above) Foundation in Hong Kong. 

The investment will create PhD scholarships in support of vital research at the University’s Institute for Regeneration and Repair (IRR).

Mr Lee says he was motivated to make the donation after being impressed by the University’s world-leading regenerative medicine research.

The Martin KS Lee Doctoral Fellowships will provide opportunities for the next generation of stem cell scientists. 

Beginning in 2021, at least nine students selected from Hong Kong and the UK will have access to fully-funded, four-year PhD placements with research teams at the IRR.

The programme will include an annual Symposium, which will bring together students and faculty. Regenerative medicine experts from Hong Kong universities will be invited as keynote speakers.

Professor Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh said: “This generous donation, at a time of great financial uncertainty worldwide, is an indication of the vision of Martin Lee and his confidence and trust in the University of Edinburgh and its superb research staff and students, and his belief that academic partnerships between Hong Kong and Scotland can be mutually beneficial, allowing the next generation of bright, talented and hard-working researchers to flourish in our world-leading research environment.”

Holders of the Fellowships will also have the chance to experience research environments in Hong Kong through the University’s numerous partnerships in the region.

Summer schools in Hong Kong will offer the students the opportunity to participate in a week of academic and social activities at hosting research institutions. Martin Lee said: “I am absolutely confident that their meaningful research will be a great success and will bring benefits to all mankind.”