Science Talk – Rising to the challenge: meet one of our researchers applying expertise in breast cancer research to make gains in childhood cancer

Team Luke visited Dr. Chiara Gorrini in the lab to learn more about the research they generously support.

“There is a huge knowledge gap when it comes to childhood cancer and this really hit me after I moved from a breast cancer lab. Childhood cancer is so diverse and we really need to unravel their underlying biology so we can develop better treatments.”

After ten years in Canada studying the deep biology of breast cancer, Dr. Gorrini joined the laboratory of Professor Louis Chesler at the Institute of Cancer Research, London. She focuses on two types of cancer in children, neuroblastoma, a cancer that develops in nerve tissue, and medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor.

“New technologies enable us to study childhood cancer in more detail than ever before and it is a really exciting time to join the ICR.”

dr. Gorrini has many years of experience developing the latest technologies to improve the way we study cancer – developing highly specialized mouse models and improving advanced imaging technologies that allow cancer to be monitored in unprecedented detail.

dr. Gorrini said: “I started approaching these technologies in my breast cancer lab in Canada, which worked closely with the engineering faculty. It’s very exciting to join a lab that uses these techniques for childhood cancer.”

We are an internationally leading research center in the study of cancer in children, teenagers and young adults. Read more about our research in this area.

Cancer in children

Meeting the challenges of childhood cancer

In the UK, approximately 100 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma and 55 children with medulloblastoma each year. Compared to more common cancers, the relatively small number of cases poses major challenges to studying the disease. It can be difficult to gather statistical power in experiments and draw meaningful conclusions.

New technologies, which make it possible to study less common cancers in detail, without the need for thousands of tissue samples, are proving invaluable. dr. Gorrini will now work on improving the models available for studying these cancers in children, in order to accelerate the development of new treatments.

‘Find the weaknesses of cancer’

“The models and imaging technology we use to study cancer allow us to look at the most comprehensive picture of the tumors in real time, in the hopes of discovering cancer weaknesses,” she said.

“Ideally you want to have a marker that allows you to track any cell type, and even the status of that cell type, for example, is it emerging? Does it die? Is it activated, aggressive, non-aggressive? We are working to improve this.”

dr. Gorrini also uses these models to better understand cancer evolution — that is, cancer’s ability to change and develop resistance to treatment. It is one of the biggest challenges in cancer research and the main reason why drugs often stop working, or why patients relapse after treatment.

“Tracking how cells change in tumors is an essential tool to understand the evolution of cancer. We are trying to find ways to stop changes that could mean that cancer is progressing or becoming resistant to treatment.

Our Center for Cancer Drug Discovery hosts the world’s first ‘Darwinian’ drug discovery program designed to address cancer’s lethal ability to develop resistance to treatment. We need your support to continue funding the exciting work taking place there.

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Cancers and the immune system

The team is also particularly interested in studying the interaction between cancers and the immune system.

dr. Gorrini said: “The number and type of immune cells in a tumor can also determine whether it will progress or respond to treatment. I realized that this area of ​​research is still largely unexplored in childhood cancer, compared to breast cancer, for example. With the discovery and approval of immunotherapies in the clinic, we really need to fill this knowledge gap so that children with cancer can benefit in the future.”

dr. Gorrini feels a deep and personal connection to her research.

“Just as in breast cancer research I was motivated by my shared experience with other women – in childhood cancer, I think my experience as a mother helps me. I feel a mix of anger and determination to make things better for these kids. You see what they’re going through – intensive, exhausting treatments, and you feel the urge to protect them. It gets very personal.”

The mail from Dr. Gorrini is supported by the TeamLuke Foundation, which was established as a legacy for Luke Bell, who died of neuroblastoma at just eight years old.
The Foundation has pledged an incredible £15,000 a year towards Chiara’s position as Senior Staff Scientist on Professor Chesler’s team. The post contributes greatly to helping the team translate scientific discoveries into benefits for patients and improving the outlook for children with cancer, in Luke’s name and memory.

We are very grateful for the support of the family’s charities, who have been affected by cancer themselves, and who are helping our research immeasurably. Read more about charitable partners in the family.

Family Charity Partners

Support improvements in diagnosis and treatment

Luke’s father Mark says, “TeamLuke Foundation is incredibly proud to have Dr. Chiara Gorrini in her research work at the Institute of Cancer Research. Watching Luke battle High Risk Neuroblastoma as a family was the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do, but it gave us the strength and motivation to help other families in similar situations by making improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of this terrible disease. support.

Luke was a very inquisitive boy and liked to help other people. These qualities are at the heart of his legacy. They are also qualities that we recognize in the ICR and we are both pleased and excited to have entered into this partnership.”

dr. Gorrini said: “I am in awe of the family’s charities, including the TeamLuke Foundation. Their incredible support fuels our research and I hope it will enable us to make the next breakthroughs for children with cancer.

“Working with childhood cancer can be scary at times, but I am honored to be part of this challenge. It feels like the right place and the right time to join the lab and make progress.”

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