A multi-disciplinary and international team of scientists from the University of Cambridge, University of Zurich and Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (Switzerland), British Columbia Cancer Agency (Canada), Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA) and DEEP VR (Ireland) has been shortlisted to the final stages of Cancer Research UK’s global Grand Challenge.


The team, which will be led by Professor Greg Hannon from the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, aims to develop and combine precise, 3D maps of tumours and their environment in a virtual reality experience, allowing researchers to ‘walk around’ inside a tumour, visualising how individual cells adapt to their environment.

The initial focus is on breast cancer – a complex disease that has at least 10 distinct subtypes. Maps will be generated using a combination of approaches, from imaging to cell-tracking, and will be matched with information on how the tumours respond to treatment.

This approach will provide an entirely new way for scientists and doctors to understand how each cancer develops and predict how it’s affected by treatment, and could change the way patients are diagnosed and treated.

The team, which also includes Professors Shankar Balasubramian, Carlos Caldas and Simon Tavaré from the CRUK Cambridge Institute will now receive seed-funding to draft their full research proposal, and the winning proposal will be announced in autumn 2016.

The Grand Challenge award aims to revolutionise how we diagnose, prevent and treat cancer by uniting teams of the best scientists around the world to come up with answers to crucial questions about how to save more lives from cancer.

Dr Rick Klausner, chair of the Grand Challenge advisory panel, said: “With so many exceptional teams proposing novel approaches, it was no easy task to pick our shortlist, but we’re delighted with the teams we’ve selected and look forward to hearing more about their plans to beat the toughest questions in cancer. At least one of these teams will be awarded the first ever Grand Challenge award later this year.”

Professor Greg Hannon, group leader at Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute who is leading the project team said: “This is an incredible opportunity to look at cancer in a whole new way.  The scale of the award allows us to bring together the best international collaborators with enough resources to propel a bold new initiative.  We look forward to the chance to convince the selection committee that our team is ready for such a challenge.”

You can find out more about the CRUK Grand Challenge at http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/funding-for-researchers/how-we-deliver-research/grand-challenge-award

14 Apr 2016