GLASGOW scientists are to receive £1.9 million to explore the causes of a debilitating wasting disease that many people experience in the later stages of cancer.

The funding is being provided by Cancer Grand Challenges, a £425m global research initiative set up to encourage the world's leading scientists to tackle some of the toughest problems faced by cancer patients.  

The Beatson project will focus on unravelling the mechanisms behind cachexia, a little understood syndrome characterised by poor appetite and extensive weight loss from both skeletal muscle and fatty tissue which affects patients in advanced stages of the disease.

It can result in patients becoming too weak to continue treatment, so preventing it could also lead to longer survival. 

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The research will be led by Dr David Lewis, of the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, and Dr Oliver Maddocks, of Glasgow University.

Dr Lewis will use 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 it early - providing 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 [Cancer Cachexia Action Network] team comprises a diverse range of expertise to tackle cachexia from the cancer itself to metabolism, neuroendocrinology and immunology.”

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The Beatson is among four recipients awarded grants in the latest funding round by the Cancer Grand Challenges initiative, which was co-founded by Cancer Research UK and the US-based National Cancer Institute.

Other projects include a UK-US collaboration to bring engineered T cell therapies into the routine treatment of childhood solid cancers, including sarcomas and brain tumours, within the decade; eDyNAmiC3 which will investigate new ways to combat treatment resistant cancers; and PROMINENT4 which aims to create a roadmap of tumour development.

The Cancer Grand Challenges’ model brings researchers from different countries and disciplines together to "think differently" about potential solutions for the disease.

Professor Charles Swanton, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician and Cancer Grand Challenges scientific committee member, 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.”

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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.”