Researchers from across Cambridge are set to receive £8 million over the next five years to pioneer new radiotherapy technologies and techniques that could help more people survive cancer in the future.

Cambridge has been chosen to be one of just seven centres of excellence in a UK-wide network that will accelerate advances in radiotherapy research. Centres will also be located in Manchester, Glasgow, Oxford, Leeds and London.

Prof Charlotte Coles, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge is lead researcher for the centre which could help to save the lives of more people with cancer in the city – and across the UK – in the future. The funding will bring together Institute researchers Prof Greg Hannon, Prof Carlos Caldas, Prof Richard Gilbertson and Dr Sarah Bohndiek with Prof Charlotte Coles, Prof Steve Jackson and Dr Raj Jena to build on local expertise, and create a centre of excellence for radiotherapy research.

Cancer Research UK is investing a total of £56 million in Cancer Research UK RadNet – the charity’s largest ever investment in radiotherapy research.

Our Cambridge team will create a research “pipeline” starting with “discovery science” – to find out how different tumours are able to repair DNA damage caused by radiotherapy and then use the latest gene-editing technology to develop radiotherapy-novel drug combinations

Prof Charlotte Coles, Consultant Clinical Oncologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital

More than 130,000 patients in the UK are treated with radiotherapy on the NHS every year. In its simplest form, the treatment works by targeting tumours with x-ray radiation, killing cancer cells by irreversibly damaging their DNA. 

Cancer Research UK supported some of the earliest research into the treatment of cancer with radiation and pioneered the first use of radiotherapy in the 1920s.


In Cambridge, the funding will support researchers to understand how radiation interacts with cancer cells at a molecular level, to find out how they become resistant to radiotherapy and how this can be overcome. Scientists and doctors will also use the latest gene-editing technology to search for new genetic targets for drug-radiotherapy combinations. They will trial new drug-radiotherapy combinations and develop biomarkers to predict how patients will respond to radiotherapy. And they will use artificial intelligence to predict how tumour cells and normal cells will react to radiotherapy.


Professor Charlotte Coles said: “We are very proud that Cambridge has been awarded this grant to bring the next generation of radiotherapy treatments to patients sooner. The funding will support us to develop new radiotherapy technologies to help more people beat cancer and have a better quality of life after treatment.

“Our Cambridge team will create a research “pipeline” starting with “discovery science” – to find out how different tumours are able to repair DNA damage caused by radiotherapy and then use the latest gene-editing technology to develop radiotherapy-novel drug combinations that stop this process and overcome resistance to radiotherapy.   We plan to bring these new discoveries into the clinic by designing novel clinical trials and also use artificial intelligence to predict how tumours and normal cells react to radiotherapy.

“We have really world-class scientists in Cambridge and fantastic clinical researchers that include doctors, physicists, radiographers and nurses. This funding now gives us a real opportunity to bring all this expertise together into one big team who is completely committed radiotherapy research. We will be focussing on breast, lung and children’s brain tumours and will work closely with whole radiotherapy research community in partnership with patients. Our united goal is to enable everyone needing radiotherapy to achieve the best chance of cure with the least side effects.”

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “Radiotherapy is a cornerstone of cancer medicine, with around 4 in 10 patients receiving it as part of their treatment. The launch of our network marks a new era of radiotherapy research in the UK. Scientists will combine advances in our understanding of cancer biology with cutting-edge technology to make this treatment more precise and effective than ever before”.

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Cancer Research UK – Personalised and powerful: UK to lead next-generation radiotherapy research