University of Aberdeen leads the fight against cancer with £1.5 million grant

The University of Aberdeen has secured a grant of up to £1.5million from Cancer Research UK to study how tumours develop.

The grant will fund a five-year programme of research led by Professor Anne Donaldson and will create a series of new research posts in her laboratory at the Foresterhill health campus.

The funds will enable Professor Donaldson and her team to gain a greater understanding of how cells become cancerous and how treatment could be targeted more effectively.

She said: “Our research will focus on a cell component known as RIF1 that we know plays a pivotal role in cancer but whose function we do not yet fully understand. RIF1 is important for maintaining the DNA in chromosomes on which our genetic information is written.  We want to investigate what happens to chromosomes when RIF1 activity goes wrong and how this contributes to cancer.

Joint leader of the research team Dr Shin-ichiro Hiraga added: “Our laboratory here in Aberdeen has developed a reputation for quality research exploring fundamental mechanisms that go wrong in cancer, and we will use the grant to take this work forward.  It’s great that this award will allow us to extend our work into human cells, bringing us closer to cancer treatments.

“We are delighted that Cancer Research UK is supporting our research into the biology of cancer, as understanding cancer fully will let us develop the most effective treatments.”

Professor Phil Hannaford, Vice-Principal for Research and Knowledge Exchange, said the new grant would enable the Donaldson laboratory, established at the University of Aberdeen in 2003, to continue its pioneering work into the causes of cancer.

“The University of Aberdeen is undertaking important research in the fight against cancer from understanding the development of the disease to improved diagnosis and treatment, cancer follow-up and survivorship care.

“Understanding how tumours develop in the first place is an important cornerstone of the fight against cancer and this grant from Cancer Research UK will enable an important area of that research to flourish within a world-class research environment.”

Professor Donaldson explained that work in the laboratory would ‘start from the beginning’ when it comes to the development of tumours. 

“We will be taking a bottom-up approach in the work we undertake in the lab, first to understand the basic biology of RIF1 and then to look at how it can be applied in a clinical setting to develop new therapies,” she said.

“The cell component RIF1 controls the repair and replication of DNA.   If these processes don’t occur or go wrong it can result in cancer. For cancer to grow cells need to multiply, and if we can work out how to stop this happening then it has great potential to improve cancer treatment.

“The component RIF1 is found in all types of cancer and is particularly frequently mutated in colon, endocrine and lung cancers—so it is vital that we improve our understanding. It is only through grants like this from Cancer Research UK—made possible by the support they receive from the public—that we can take forward the science needed to tackle the disease.”