The European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute (ECSCRI) at Cardiff University is investigating the way cancer stem cells are analysed and interpreted.
The Institute’s director, Professor Alan Clarke, shared the team’s latest findings with luminaries from across the world at the Targeting Cancer Conference at Newport’s Celtic Manor Resort this week.
As the Institute’s patron, telecoms tycoon Sir Terry has helped offer a different view through his network and contacts.
Sir Terry said: “The impact of Professor Alan Clarke and his team’s cancer research has implications way beyond the UK with potential to be world-leading and a huge gain to humanity.
“I wholeheartedly champion its efforts to develop new treatments across a broad range of cancers.”
The owner of the Celtic Manor spoke about his interest in cancer research which started after the death of his mother from ovarian cancer.
“I got to know a few of the specialists and I’d heard about stem cell research. I had a meeting with them and asked to be involved,” he said.
He said changing the name of the organisation had also attracted more attention, adding: “Names are important and teams are important and I’m talking about the world’s best team.
“We’re talking about Cardiff here and this is Cardiff research in a world-class team.”
The Institute is looking at a new way of researching cancer by focusing on just a small part of the tumour – the cancer stem cell.
Prof Clarke said: “Cancer stem cells account for only a small proportion of cells in a tumour.
“However, they could be crucial to the way tumours form, grow and spread.
“The Research Institute will investigate the possibility that therapies aimed at cancer stem cells alone will offer a better success rate for cancer sufferers and will, we hope, markedly improve survival rates.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is to understand which cancers have a stem cell component.
“Not all cells are the same and some of these cells are more dangerous than others.
“We ask how aggressive each cell is and we might find that some cells are very aggressive and are responsible for the ultimate growth of the tumour.
“The rest are just sort of passengers but we’ve still got to get rid of them.
“If we want to kill the tumour, we’ve got to look at those which are the most aggressive.
“They drive the ultimate growth of the tumour and any relapse of the tumour.”
Prof Clarke said that if there are therapies that target these specific cells, it would target the cancer as a whole more effectively.
The hypothesis has been a contentious one because of the debate around the definition of the term “stem cell”, but Prof Clarke said the idea of the Institute is to probe the theory.
The ECSCRI will eventually be moving its laboratory and research space into the new £30m Hadyn Ellis Building at the university’s Maindy Park Campus.