What Research Do We Support?

The Wales Cancer Biobank accepts applications from researchers worldwide to use the anonymised biosamples and/or data in their work. Projects must be related to furthering the knowledge of cancer, its initiation, progression and/or treatment but the application process is open to all and the only criteria to be fulfilled is that the proposed work is good science that will contribute to knowledge.

Published Papers using Samples from WCB

WCB receives applications for a variety of different downstream methodologies using a range of numbers of samples, from 2 to 2,000 and, whilst some applications are very prescriptive in their requirements, others are more generalised. WCB requests an acknowledgment in any published works as the source of samples and/or data and some of the more recent journal papers are featured here on our Blog page.

Advancing Biospecimen Research

The Wales Cancer Biobank actively engages in biospecimen science research to expand knowledge around the quantification of pre-analytical factors present throughout the biobanking processes that can affect sample integrity and fitness for the intended purpose.  WCB works with other biobanks and biobanking organisations around the UK and further afield to advance the field of biobanking and investigate how biobanks can better support researchers, whilst establishing standards and protocols to improve the quality of the available biosamples.

WCB has provided samples for many research projects, a selection of lay summaries for some of these projects can be found below:

Awen Gallimore, Cardiff University

It is clear that SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) presents a considerable challenge to the elderly and immunosuppressed, with mortality being significantly higher within this group. There is accumulating evidence suggesting that this is due to age-related immune defects including dysregulated inflammatory responses which contribute to disease progression and sub- optimal adaptive immune responses which result in poorer control of the infection. The incidence of cancer is also increased in the elderly where a declining adaptive immune system, as well as aging associated inflammation, are factors in disease progression. For this reason, most cancer patients, including those being treated with chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiotherapy are considered “clinically extremely vulnerable” and will be offered vaccines in priority group 4, or will have been vaccinated in earlier priority groups due to their age. Given that there is already evidence that vaccines for influenza induce weaker immune responses in the elderly and in cancer patients, it is extremely important that immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 are measured in vaccinated individuals belonging to these groups. Whilst this study will focus on immunological studies, the data will feed into larger future studies to examine vaccine efficacy. This is important as it is clear that whilst influenza vaccine induce weaker responses in cancer patients, vaccines remain effective at reducing morbidity and mortality.

Jason Webber, Swansea University

Some men have prostate cancer that is very slow growing, and may not need urgent treatment. Others however have a faster, more aggressive, form of the disease.

Doctors lack the tools needed to accurately predict aggressive disease, and rely on tissue biopsy results to make decisions. This requires a surgical procedure, which has many complications. Sometimes the biopsy needle will sample a cancerous part of the prostate, and sometimes this is missed, sampling normal prostate instead. The use of scanning machines (MRI), where available, is useful to help guide the biopsy to the cancerous part of the prostate. But even then it remains difficult to predict whether the cancer is aggressive.

A major feature of aggressive disease is the inappropriate activation of neighbouring cells surrounding the cancer. These “stromal” cells produce a lot of small fat-bubbles (termed exosomes), which carry molecules that indicate that the stroma is activated.We will develop a blood-based test for prostate cancer based on the analysis of stromal exosomes; detecting molecules that indicate their abnormal activation. This novel approach holds potential to eliminate the need for biopsy, to identify aggressive cancer earlier, and ultimately to save up to 10,000 lives in the UK each year.

Liliana Ordonez, Swansea University

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in males in the UK. Although localised disease is well managed, aggressive subtypes are no longer curable, representing an urgent clinical need for the development of novel therapeutic approaches.

Antibody conjugate drugs (ADCs) are a targeted therapy, combining the specificity of an antibody and potent cell killing of a cytotoxic drug. The antibody delivers the drug to cancer cells, where it is enters the cell and the drug is released in its active form, causing tumour specific cell death. This specificity offers a competitive advantage over existing therapies.

My research has identified a new target which I have shown to be overexpressed in ovarian and breast cancers, and absent/very low expression in healthy tissues. I have developed an ADC using this target and have shown it to be highly efficacious, with low side effects, in these cancers.

Other studies have shown the target is also overexpressed in prostate cancer and contributes to prostate cancer progression; therefore the aim of this project is to investigate whether this ADC could provide a novel therapeutic strategy for patients with aggressive prostate cancer.

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Alan Parker, Cardiff University

Research within our laboratory focusses on developing viruses as anti-cancer agents (virotherapies). This approach has advantages over traditional cancer therapies. Firstly, virus reaching the tumour replicates, making thousands fold more copies, before bursting infected tumour cells, spreading therapeutic virus to surrounding cells and repeating the process. This “bursting” of tumour cells stimulates the body’s immune cells to recognise and kill tumour cells. Furthermore, virotherapies can be further manipulated to produce cancer therapies within infected cells, effectively turning the tumour into a factory producing anti-cancer medicines to facilitate its own destruction.

To develop and stratify the most powerful virotherapies, we wish to recreate the conditions within the tumour microenvironment. We wish to use the most translational model possible – using clinical material to develop “mini-tumours” (known as organoids) in the lab on which to test our virotherapies. To achieve this, we need to access both resected materials, and, in order to assess how well the virotherapies stimulate the immune cells, we required matched blood to isolate immune cells called T-cells and NK cells and see how well the viruses activate these key immune cells. Specifically, we will aim to assess their efficacy in the treatment of Head and Neck cancers, an ideal first outlet for these therapies, where local, intratumoural delivery is simple and effective.

Pahini Pandya, Panakeia

Panakeia’s project aims to improve accuracy, reduce costs and turnaround times for breast cancer diagnoses. Currently, cancer diagnoses require a visual assessment of a biopsy by a pathologist followed by subsequent molecular tests.

Furthermore, with increasing cancer incidence and ageing workforce (60.7% pathologists being >55 years of age), there is a need for solutions capable of relieving workload pressures in a cost- and time-effective way.

Panakeia is developing a game-changing method for pathology-based interpretation of biopsy samples which enables faster, cheaper, more accurate diagnosis by reducing the need for multiple tests.

Building on a successful initial Proof of Concept (PoC) study demonstrating very promising results in terms of accuracy and reduced timeframes, a 12-month project aims to refine and validate this technology to reach a standard acceptable for clinical use.

This is a preliminary pilot application to obtain a few samples in order to verify the quality of those.