CANBUILD - Bioengineering the tumour microenvironment

Principal investigator: Fran Balkwill
Co-investigator(s): J. Connelly and Martin KNIGHT
Funding source(s): E.R.C.
 Start: 26-08-2013  /  End: 24-08-2018
 Amount: £30,000
Directly incurred staff: Robin Delaine-Smith

Mouse model of ovarian cancer showing cancer cells in green, immune cells in pink and blood vessels in red.This project is funded by a European Research Council (ERC) Senior Fellowship (PI. Prof Fran Balkwill, Barts Cancer Institute, QMUL) and aims to revolutionise the field of cancer cell research by using bioengineering techniques to grow the first complex 3-dimensional human "tumour microenvironment" in the laboratory. In the CANBUILD project the multi-disciplinary team of scientists will be using the latest advances in tissue engineering, biomechanics, imaging and stem cell biology which they believe will make it possible to engineer, for the first time, a complex 3-dimensional human tumour in which the different cell types of the tumour microenvironment will communicate, evolve and grow in vitro. The CANBUILD goal is to recreate the tumour microenvironment of human high-grade serious ovarian cancer, the subtype that leads to 70 per cent of all ovarian cancer deaths, but the research may have implications for several other cancers as well. The vision is that this project will replace inadequate techniques where human cancer cells are grown in isolation on plastic surfaces. Success in the CANBUILD project may also provide better ways of testing new drugs that target the human tumour microenvironment. The principal investigator, Professor Fran Balkwill said that “It seems logical that the best long-term treatments will come from combining both therapies that target the cancer cells with something aimed at the wider tumour microenvironment which, while not cancerous cells themselves, are supporting the cancer's growth. Growing an in vitro model will allow us to watch how the cells communicate and how the tumour grows, teaching us more about what is going on in this complex system and hopefully giving us a model we can test new drugs on.? The five-year research plan involves: - "Deconstruction" of the human ovarian cancer tumour microenvironment - Constructing the artificial scaffold, optimising growth of different cell types, and assembling the model - Comparison of the model to fresh human tissue - Investigating the roles of individual cells - Testing new treatments that target the tumour microenvironment The ERC funding (2.43 million Euro) will also allow the team to communicate their research via Centre of the Cell, Queen Mary's award-winning science education centre, online resource, widening participation and outreach project.

CANBUILD Team at Queen Mary, University of London: Barts Cancer Institute: Professor Frances Balkwill, Dr Thorsten Hagemann, Dr Michelle Lockley William Harvey Research Institute: Professor Sussan Nourshargh Blizard Institute: Dr John Connelly, Professor Ian MacKenzie School of Engineering and Materials Science: Professor Martin Knight CANBUILD collaborators: Dr James Brenton - Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute Dr Jeff Hubbell - École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne.