Cancer Research

The Naked Scientists spoke to Dr Kat Arney, reporting from the National Cancer Research Institute Conference in Birmingham
08 October 2006

Interview with 

Dr Kat Arney, The Naked Scientists


Pancreatic cancer with resident bacteria (stained for LPS)


Chris - Now we're going to join Kat Arney at the National Cancer Research Institute conference in Birmingham. It's the largest UK annual gathering of researchers who work on cancer around the world. Kat's there at the launch today. We're used to having you here in the studio so it's nice to have you out and about. What's this conference all about?

Kat - The National Cancer Research Institute is a virtual cancer institute that has brought together all the major funding bodies of cancer research in the UK. First of all we heard from Mike Richards, the UK cancer tsar, and he gave us a really exciting overview of what the conference is going to be about and how we're going to hear from so many different cancer researchers over the week. Already we're heard from Fran Balkwill, who's here in the studio with me, and she was talking about how we seem to be entering a golden age for cancer research. We also heard news from Mike Richards that we're going to see £35 million given this year for the establishment of seventeen new experimental cancer medicine centres here in the UK and that's funded by Cancer Research UK and the Department of Health. Tomorrow we're going to find out where these are going to be. We're currently sitting here in the back of the lecture theatre listening to the clinical trails showcase and we're going to have new results coming out; successes in bowel cancer and also in breast cancer. And finally, just today, scientists have discovered a new gene for breast cancer. This is pretty exciting stuff because new genes don't come along all the time. But this a new gene called BRIP1 and the researchers have found that this increases a woman's chance of getting breast cancer; roughly doubling it. So by the age of seventy your risk of breast cancer is about 1 in 12, and this found that if you have a fault in the gene BRIP1, you go to a risk of about 1 in 6. They found this by studying about 3000 women.

Chris - How can we have missed this for so long, Kat, given that it's implicated in so many tumours?

Kat - It's something that's known as a low penetrance gene. They think that faulty BRIP1 is found in about 30 000 women in the UK, but it doesn't mean that you're necessarily going to get breast cancer. They think that faults in BRIP1 actually contribute to around 100 cases of breast cancer in the UK every year.

Chris - And will this form part of the screening programme or is this something of academic interest but not clinical relevance?

Kat - At the moment it's very much of academic interest, but it could mean that we could potentially help screen women in the future and it will also inform the development of new treatments and it's important to know about this. The other thing that's really interesting is hearing Gerard in the studio. You might like to know that Gerard lectured me when I was an undergraduate.

Chris - It's a small world isn't it Gerard? Well Kat, I first met Gerard because I was interviewing him for something completely different but in a similar field when he was over in California and we got talking to each other a few months ago and said that you're so good at talking about your subject, you have to come to Cambridge.

Gerard - How could I refuse?!

Chris - So he very kindly agreed to come to Cambridge on his way to Germany to talk to us this evening.

Kat - Well it's absolutely fantastic to hear him back in the UK.

Chris - But you've also got some good news about cancer research in general haven't you, Kat?]

Kat - A couple of weeks ago Cancer Research UK released their most recent funding figures and in the past year we've spent more than £250 million on cancer research. That's entirely from donations from the public, so that's absolutely fantastic news. Also, Mike Richards has announced that there'll be new experimental medicine centres, so that'll be for testing new drugs, getting what we know academically about cancers and turning those into treatments to make a difference for cancer patients in the future. We've got Fran Balkwill here, who's hopefully going to tell us more about how we can use this knowledge and make some genuine progress in cancer research.


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