A research team at the University of Cambridge is to lead a groundbreaking study exploring genomics, in gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs), with the aim of unlocking new treatment options for these sarcoma patients.
Co-funders Sarcoma UK and GIST Cancer UK will jointly commit £140,000 to the project, marking the first research collaboration between the two charities.
GISTs are the most common type of sarcoma. About one in 15 people with GIST have a subtype known as SDH-deficient GIST, which is particularly challenging to treat with drugs, meaning the only effective treatment is surgery, which is sometimes not possible.
Lead scientist Dr Olivier Giger and his team, who are members of the PAWS-GIST consortium, plan to use cutting-edge laboratory techniques to improve our understanding of the genomic changes that occur in SDH-deficient GIST, and how they might be targeted with new treatments.
Genomics is about understanding our genes and how they work together. Over the past decade, there have been huge steps forward in the treatment of GIST, and genomics has been key to this success. For example, we know that defects in two genes, called KIT and PDGFRA, are present in many GIST tumours. Drugs which specifically target these genes, such as imatinib, work well in patients with these genetic defects.
Dr Giger and his team aim to use the latest technologies in the hope of finding ways to achieve similar success for patients with SDH-deficient GISTs.
“We know how focussing on specific genes can be vital to finding new drug targets, and we’ve already seen this potential translated to treatments in patients with other cancers,’ says Dr Giger. ‘In the long-term, we hope the results from this study will transform the treatment options for SDH-deficient GIST patients.”
This is the first research project jointly funded by Sarcoma UK and GIST Cancer UK. Working together in this way creates more opportunity to fund innovative sarcoma and GIST research, and ultimately produce vital treatments for patients.
‘Collaboration truly is key to finding the best answers in research and that’s why we’re delighted to be co-funding this exciting research with GIST Cancer UK,” says Dr Sorrel Bickley, Director of Research Policy and Support at Sarcoma UK. “We hope that Dr Giger’s project will help pave the way to finding desperately needed treatments for GISTs and other sarcomas.”
Jayne Bressington, Vice Chair of GIST Cancer UK and Patient Director PAWS-GIST, says: “We are very pleased to be working collaboratively with Sarcoma UK. SDH deficient GIST patients who attend our PAWS-GIST clinic are desperate to find effective treatments, so it is wonderful that by joining forces we can help Dr Giger and his team build upon the significant findings from their GIST Cancer UK-funded pilot study and hopefully pave the way for finding effective treatments”.
A lay summary of Dr Giger’s research can be read here.