Wales Cancer Research Centre Conference 2024

By Ffion Edwards, Research Assistant, Wales Cancer Biobank

 

On 4th March, I attended the Wales Cancer Research Centre conference at the National Museum, Cardiff. Throughout the day, there were a number of interesting talks by guest speakers working in the field of cancer research.

I attended a ‘Cancer clinical trials’ talk, covering various ongoing studies that are being carried out with the aim of developing novel diagnostic tests or treatments for patients with cancer. One of which included the QuicDNA study, which is focused on the use of circulating tumour DNA testing within the diagnostic pathway for lung cancer. Other talks I attended included ‘Precision and mechanistic oncology’ and ‘Population health-based cancer prevention and early diagnosis’.

As well as the talks, there were several posters on display showcasing different areas of expertise among cancer researchers in Wales. There were also several exhibitor stands, run by partners of the Wales Cancer Research Centre and by conference sponsors. Some of these included the Wales Cancer Biobank, Health and Care Research Wales and The Centre for Trials Research.

Attending this conference was a great way to meet cancer researchers and to gain valuable insights into recent advances in cancer research in Wales.

 

Click here to read WCRC's full write up on the conference


WCB research nurse, Kevin, talks about our consenting process

My name is Kevin and I work for the Wales Cancer Biobank as a Research Nurse in UHW.

My job involves seeing patients who are about to undergo surgery for removal of a tumour or suspicious growth and to see if they are willing to donate tissue and blood samples, along with permission to anonymise parts of their medical notes and add this to our secure database. I am based in the Urology Clinic and my role is to explain how the Wales Cancer Biobank works; how and when the tissue is taken; how and where it is stored; and who has access to it. If the patient is happy to go ahead, I consent them.

The aim is to find better ways of diagnosing and treating cancer, and researchers apply to access these samples of blood and tissue for permission to study them. I started work for the Wales Cancer Biobank in January 2009 and initially, as well as consenting patients, we also used to do some lab work processing blood samples. Recently we have started using iPads for consenting patients instead of paper consents which has made the job much easier for me and I think patients prefer it too, as well as saving on paper.

Some patients actually ask why I am asking them for a donation of blood and tissue, assuming that this was done automatically without having to ask permission. I do enjoy my job as a Research Nurse for the Wales Cancer Biobank.

In my spare time I enjoy a bit of gardening, running and I volunteer for Cruse Bereavement Support, supporting clients via phone and occasionally Zoom. I also help with Barney’s Small Dog Rescue; at present my partner and I are fostering 2 dogs until they find their forever home. I also play guitar in a Punk Band.


Ice Slice Baby; Exploring the Use of Ice Embedding for Frozen Sectioning in Biobanking

By Paola Foulkes, Wales Cancer Biobank

In October I had the opportunity to present a poster at the ISBER regional symposium hosted by the Biobanco del Sistema Sanitario Público de Andalucía in Granada Spain. The theme of this year’s meeting was focused on biospecimen science, research, and innovation. Over the two days I attended a series talks around the themes of human, environmental and microbial biospecimen science. There were also abstract presentations on a variety of engaging topics from seed biobanking to the first aerospace biobank, collecting samples from the SpaceX Inspiration4 Mission. I also took part in a round table about the preanalytical factors that impacts downstream genomics analysis of tissue samples. This was one of the highlights of the conference as I had the opportunity to learn from others in the field how different biobanks manage pre analytical variables, as well as contribute about the processes at WCB. Over the course of the conference, I met delegates from all over the world including Luxembourg, Kenya and Japan. There was also the opportunity to interact with companies exhibiting their latest biobanking equipment and technologies. Another highlight of the conference was the tour of the biobank at the end, along with winning the interactive quiz based on the conference talks.

 

Paola ISBER poster

Using blood samples to identify patients at risk of prostate cancer - Dr Jason Webber

Using extracellular vesicles, in patient blood, to identify patients at risk of prostate cancer progression & metastatic disease

Dr Jason Webber (Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Medicine Health & Life Sciences, Swansea University)

Prostate cancer (PCa) is a serious health concern, impacting over 50,000 patients and claiming more than 11,000 lives annually within the UK. Despite the prevalence of the disease, current diagnostic methods, such as the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, lack both sensitivity and specificity. While multi-parametric magnetic resonance imaging (mp-MRI) represents a major advancement in non-invasive diagnosis of disease, discrimination between patients with aggressive or non-aggressive, slow growing tumours, remains a challenge. In many cases accurate diagnosis requires biopsy which is an invasive procedure with many potential risks. Our research is therefore focussed on the development of novel biomarkers that can be used, in conjunction with current clinical practices, for non-invasive and early detection of patients with aggressive PCa.

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) have emerged as promising sauce of biomarkers for cancer diagnosis. These small, yet highly complex, packages contain vast amounts of information about their originating cells. Importantly, we have already demonstrated that EVs from prostate cancers are detectable within patient blood and can predict the outcome of biopsy (Shephard A et al, 2021). We are extremely fortunate to work with the Wales Cancer Biobank, who have supported this research through the provision of serum samples and associated clinical data required to accurately assess our biomarkers candidates.

Looking to the future, we have multiple ongoing research projects supported by funders such as Cancer Research Wales and Prostate Cancer UK to further develop our EV-based biomarkers to enable identification of patients who are at risk of PCa progression and metastatic disease. To achieve this goal, we are taking a multi-facetted approach to explore the RNA and glycan (sugar) cargoes contained within EVs. We are combining novel laboratory techniques with cutting-edge analytical approaches, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, to combine multiple biomarkers. This has resulted in collaboration with some of the leading PCa research labs throughout the UK and beyond.

Identified biomarker candidates will be tested using samples from the Wales Cancer Biobank. Data generated will form an extremely valuable resource for future biomarker discoveries, supporting the development of novel biomarkers for identification of patients at risk from aggressive PCa as well as future studies likely to arise from this work.