The Fund has awarded £23,000 for a promising strand of investigation into cells associated with mesothelioma at the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff.
The two-year project is being carried out by Dr Jason Webber of the Exosome Biology Group, led by Dr Aled Clayton. Dr Webber said, “There is significant interest in this realm of cancer research and, naturally, we hope it will lead to potential new treatments.
“I am very grateful to the Fund for giving me the opportunity to pursue this important work.”
Dr Webber’s research focuses on small bubbles of fat, called exosomes, produced by cancer cells. The Velindre team has already shown how exosomes produced by mesothelioma cells can block the body’s own immune system, therefore weakening its natural defence against cancer.
Dr Webber is exploring a different process; the effect of mesothelioma-exosomes on non cancerous cells called fibroblasts. These form a large part of normal tissue, but become strongly activated following exposure to mesothelioma exosomes. This activation in the tumour environment is often associated with poor prognosis for many cancer types.
The team has identified a protein (Transforming Growth Factor-beta or TGF_) on the surface of the exosomes which is responsible for activating fibroblasts. Dr Webber has already found a new way of constraining this activity and preventing the fibroblasts from being activated; his research will explore the potential for treatments based on these findings.