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Wallsend parents back new gene test that could help children suffering from cancer

Newcastle Evening Chronicle 18:30, 5 NOV 2015   and front page of Newcastle Journal

Researchers have developed a new gene test which could help youngsters suffering from a type of childhood cancer. Here, reporter SONIA SHARMA finds out how a North East family have been supporting the vital work.

When teenager Chris Lucas died of cancer, there was just one thing his parents wanted – to try and stop other families from suffering in the same way.

Chris, of Hadrian Park, Wallsend, was a strong and active lad who enjoyed playing rugby, cricket and basketball.

But in 1997, when he was 15, he started to complain of pain in his left side and began to lose weight.

A series of tests revealed that he had rhabdomyosarcoma – the most common soft tissue sarcoma in children and adolescents, in which malignant cancer cells form in muscle tissue.

Chris, who went to Churchill Community College and Tynemouth College, received extensive treatment and battled on for three years.

During this time, his passed his GCSEs and even went on to get his first job as a trainee graphic designer.

However, he lost his brave fight in 2000, aged 18.

His parents, both called Lynn, were left devastated. But they channelled their grief into raising money for research into the disease that claimed their son’s life.

Chris Lucas, centre, with his parents, both called Lynn
Chris Lucas, centre, with his parents, both called Lynn

They set up the Chris Lucas Trust and organised annual fundraising events, such as the Great North Bike Ride and Jingle Bell Walk, which are supported by hundreds of people.

The 60-mile bike ride, from Seahouses to Tynemouth, started with just six people taking part. But it has grown substantially, with more than 1,500 cyclists participating this year.

The proceeds from all events are handed over to researchers based at the Royal Marsden Hospital, in Surrey, who have been working on rhabdomyosarcoma for many years.

Now the team, supported by The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London, have announced a development which could help children who suffer from the disease.

Researchers say a new gene test can identify which patients are likely to suffer more aggressive forms of rhabdomyosarcoma.

Examining the activity of only five genes in a sample of the tumour was enough to identify high-risk children who might benefit from more intensive treatment or from new therapies in clinical trials.

The findings, published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research, could open up the opportunity for doctors to prescribe personalised treatment for youngsters depending on the gene activity of their tumours.

Lynn Lucas at the finish of the Great North Bike Ride in aid of the Chris Lucas Trust
Lynn Lucas at the finish of the Great North Bike Ride in aid of the Chris Lucas Trust

This five-gene signature, known as MG5, was developed at the ICR.

It has now been validated in tests of samples from 68 patients led by scientists from the Children’s Oncology Group in the US, in collaboration with ICR.

The test for gene activity – known scientifically as gene ‘expression’ – is the first to be able to predict accurately which children with a type of rhabdomyosarcoma called ‘fusion-negative’ will have more aggressive forms of the disease.

Children with fusion-negative tumours lack a particular genetic defect often found in rhabdomyosarcoma that results in two genes, called PAX3 and FOXO1, becoming fused together.

The severity of rhabdomyosarcoma depends on various factors including where in the body it developed.

Previous work at the ICR has shown that fusion-negative patients generally have a lower risk of developing aggressive disease than fusion-positive cases.

But in the new study, researchers showed that the MG5 test splits fusion-negative patients into two distinct groups, based on the activity of the five genes. Patients with high scores have significantly worse survival chances than those with low scores, suggesting the test could ultimately be included in assessment of children with rhabdomyosarcoma across Europe and the US to decide the best treatment option.

UK study leader Janet Shipley, professor of cancer molecular pathology at ICR, whose laboratory originally developed the test, said: “Our research showed a significant link between a particular gene signature from tumour samples and higher-risk aggressive rhabdomyosarcoma.

The Great North Bike Ride in aid of the Chris Lucas Trust finishes in Tynemouth.

“This study is an important step towards introducing an approach that identifies children who are unlikely to benefit from current standard treatments and can be offered more intensive or new treatment strategies that will improve their outcome.

“We now hope to bring our test for this gene signature to the clinic as soon as possible. Our aim is to identify these high-risk cases of rhabdomyosarcoma more quickly in the clinic, and ultimately improve treatment for these children.”

This development has pleased Chris’ mum Lynn.

She said: “It is fantastic that our £1.8m funding has come up with this test which is a great step forward towards finding the right treatments for children suffering with cancer – letting all our followers and supporters know their money has made a difference.

“This is a huge step to begin dividing up children’s cancers depending on their genetics and gene activity, so that we can adjust their treatment according to the aggressiveness of the disease. That should help us to increase the chances of survival in those with aggressive cancer, while easing the side-effects from treatment in less deadly forms.

“The test could ultimately be included in assessment of children with rhabdomyosarcoma to decide the best treatment option.

“Rhabdomyosarcoma can be a difficult cancer to diagnose so this test will determine high-risk children so they can be given more intensive treatment – not just the standard treatments – so this will boost their survival rate.

“The side effects of some cancer treatments are really difficult for the children to tolerate. This test will determine what children are high risk and do need intensive treatment.”

The Chris Lucas Trust is already preparing for its next big fundraiser. The Jingle Bell Walk, which starts outside Newcastle Civic Centre and ends at the Millennium Bridge on the Quayside, will take place on December 3.

The event will feature a marching band, real reindeer and Santa Claus in his sleigh. To register, visit www.jinglebellwalk.co.uk

Lynn Lucas from Hadrian Park, who's son Chris died from cancer and the family launched a charity in his name

Lynn Lucas from Hadrian Park, who’s son Chris died from cancer and the family launched a charity in his name

Wallsend charity funds research into rare form of childhood cancer

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Newcastle Evening Chronicle 29 January 2015 06:30 AM by Sonia Sharma

Wallsend charity funds research into rare form of childhood cancer

The Chris Lucas Trust is to provide £300,000 for studies into rhabdomyosarcoma at The Institute of Cancer Research in London

Lynn Lucas of the Chris Lucas Trust
Rare cancer research has been given a boost by a charity set up in memory of a Tyneside teenager.

The Chris Lucas Trust has agreed to provide £300,000 over three years to support studies into rhabdomyosarcoma at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), in London.

The group, founded by Chris’s parents after he died from the disease in July 2000, has so far raised more than £1m and continues to fundraise through flagship events such as the annual Great North Bike Ride.

The latest donation will allow the research team to employ two scientists to exclusively work on rhabdomyosarcoma for the next three years, under the supervision of Professor Janet Shipley – a leading authority on research into soft tissue sarcomas.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a tumour that resembles muscle tissue, and at present there are no effective targeted treatments for the aggressive forms of the disease.

Before being diagnosed in July 1997, Chris was a strong 15-year-old who played rugby, cricket and basketball. He started to suffer from pain in his left side and began to lose weight.

After visits to the hospital, he was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma and received extensive medical treatment. During that time, he sat for his GCSEs and started a career in graphic design.

But the youngster lost his brave battle against the disease when he was 18.

His parents, both called Lynn, of Hadrian Park, Wallsend, have since poured their efforts into fundraising.

Chris Lucas, centre, with his parents

Chris’s mum Lynn, 56, said: “We still think about Chris a lot. It feels like it all happened yesterday. He would have been 33-years-old now.

“We don’t want other youngsters to suffer in the way that Chris did and that’s why we set up this charity. We have to find a cure for this disease.

“We have found out that not a lot of funding is given to childhood cancer so any money we raise will help towards vital research.

“We organise the Great North Bike Ride every year as well as the Jingle Bell Walk in the winter. Last year the bike ride itself raised around £100,000. It is hard work but very rewarding.

“We chose the ICR since we believe in their commitment to develop new drugs to help children and teenagers suffering from cancer to live longer, and ultimately find a cure for rhabdomyosarcoma.”

Thomas Bland, deputy director of development at the ICR, said: “Donations from the Chris Lucas Trust have already contributed to important discoveries about rhabdomyosarcoma, which is a major cause of cancer death in children.

“We are very grateful for the support of Chris’ family for the next stage in our research. Without the support of donors like them, we wouldn’t be able to carry out our work to develop new treatments for childhood cancers – which are often underfunded when compared with some of the more common adult cancers.”

Chris Lucas Trust donates £300,000 to rhabdomyosarcoma research

22 Jan 2015
Chris Lucas Trust donates £300,000 to rhabdomyosarcoma research

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Professor Janet Shipley and her sarcoma molecular pathology team

The Chris Lucas Trust has made another generous pledge of £300,000 to support rhabdomyosarcoma research at The Institute of Cancer Research, London. The charity, which was set up after teenager Chris’s tragic death from the disease in July 2000, has so far raised over £1m for research into rhabdomyosarcoma and continues to fundraise through flagship events such as the Great North Bike Ride.

Before being diagnosed in July 1997, Chris was a strong 15-year- old boy, who played rugby, cricket and basketball. After twice battling back from the disease, achieving great GCSE results and starting out in a career in graphic design, the cancer finally took Chris after three years. The Chris Lucas Trust hopes to enable the translation of new molecularly targeted drugs rapidly into the clinic so that other families don’t suffer the same fate.

Donations from the trust have already contributed to studies that found combining two separate molecularly targeted therapies could block processes driving growth in rhabdomyosarcoma, a major cause of cancer death in children.

This latest award from the Chris Lucas Trust will enable us to employ two scientists to exclusively work on rhabdomyosarcoma for the next three years, under the supervision of Professor Janet Shipley – one of the world’s leading authorities on research into soft tissue sarcomas. Rhabdomyosarcoma is a tumour that resembles muscle tissue, and at present there are no effective targeted treatments for the aggressive forms of the disease.

Mrs Lynn Lucas, Chris’s mum, told us: “We are delighted to continue supporting this much-needed research programme. Our fundraising is hard work but extremely rewarding and we chose the ICR since we believe in their commitment to develop new drugs to help children and teenagers suffering from cancer to live longer, and ultimately find a cure for rhabdomyosarcoma.”

If you are interested in making a gift to the Chris Lucas Trust to support our work, please contact Lynn Lucas on 0191 2632884 or at lynn@chrislucastrust.com

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Double-pronged attack could treat common children’s cancer

Fantastic news please read this is what we fund towards http://t.co/zGvEpV94Lx

@chrislucastrust Double-pronged attack could treat common children’s cancer  http://t.co/JDoRfi6Had

Rhabdomyosarcoma Chris Lucas Trust Research

Just want to share this is what we are funding
A combination of two potential anti-cancer drugs could help block the growth of rhabdomyosarcoma (a particular childhood cancer which starts in the muscles), according to a study from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London.
The study looked at two key controls in cancer cells, which can contribute to them becoming resistant to treatment. By switching off both controls with a combined drug treatment the researchers were able to stop the growth of cancer cells in the lab and in mice.
They found that one of the controls – known as the PI3 kinase pathway – was switched on in 83 per cent of rhabdomyosarcoma samples from patients.
And the other control – known as the MAP kinase pathway – was switched on in 43 per cent of the patient samples where PI3 kinase was also switched on.
Using cells grown in the lab, the researchers then found that if you switched off either one of the two controls the other control became more activated to compensate.
The two drugs combined reduced the growth of cancer cells in the lab to a greater extent than either treatment on its own.
And the drug combination reduced levels of a blood tumour marker in mice with rhabdomyosarcoma.
The two drugs are already being tested for treating adult cancers. Dr Renshaw said the next step will be clinical trials for children.
Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK’s Senior Science Communication Manager, said: “Understanding the inner workings of cancer cells is crucial to finding the best ways to tackle the disease.
“This lab research emphasises the importance of targeting each cancer’s weak points and combining drugs to develop more effective treatments – which are urgently needed to improve survival for children’s cancers like rhabdomyosarcoma.”
“Further research and clinical trials will shed light on whether this promising drug combination could help save more lives.”
The study was funded by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Cancer at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), with additional funding from Cancer Research UK, the Chris Lucas Trust and The Royal Marsden Hospital Charitable Fund.