The School of Medicine is an international leader in basic and clinically applied research activities across its eight divisions. Work being carried out in the Department of Surgery by the Metastasis Research Group (MRG) is an example of world-acclaimed research.
The group studies the molecular and cellular events underlying cancer invasion and the transfer of the disease from one part of the body to another as well as developing therapeutic strategies to target cancer.
The department’s Cancer Research UK team gained international recognition with a discovery that could help halt the rapid spread of breast cancer. The group studied tight junctions molecules, which act like zips sealing the gaps between cells in our bodies.
They found that patients with fewer of these "zips" were more prone to breast cancer spread. Cancer spreads to other parts of the body when a cell breaks away from the primary tumour and burrows into a surrounding blood vessel to enter the blood stream.
Researchers believe low levels of tight junctions widen the gaps between cells in tumours and blood vessels, making it easier for rogue cancer cells to make their escape. The Cancer Research UK team believe designing therapies to boost the levels of tight junctions could stop breast cancer cells from invading other parts of the body by closing-up their escape routes.
Despite there being very effective methods to treat cancer confined to the breast treatment becomes more difficult when abnormal cells spread to other parts of the body.
It is hoped that this work will help with understanding how cancer cells escape from a breast tumour and therapies can be developed to halt the process in its early stages and contain the disease.
Wales Cancer Bank at the forefront of cancer research
The Wales Cancer Bank puts Wales at the forefront of international research into the causes of cancer and the search for a cure. The initiative is set against a nation that has some of the worst rates of the disease in Europe.
The Wales Cancer Bank is hoped to revolutionise research into the disease by asking patients with possible or confirmed cancer to take part in the project by allowing their tissue and blood samples to be kept for scientific studies.
Professor Malcolm Mason, School of Medicine and Director of the Cancer Bank said: "As a doctor treating cancer patients, I am only too aware of the limitations of our current treatments. We desperately need a new assault on this disease and I believe that the Wales Cancer Bank will provide just that."
The research will help establish the causes of cancer, help identify new areas for treatment and find out the best way to care for individual patients.
Funded by the Assembly, Wales Cancer Bank is a collaborative project involving the University’s School of Medicine, University of Wales, Swansea and Bangor, several Welsh NHS Trusts and the Assembly. It will be the first population-based collection of tumour and control tissue samples in the UK.