New Approaches to Fighting Breast Cancer at the University of Southampton

New Approaches to Fighting Breast Cancer at the University of Southampton

5th Mar 2019

This Autumn the spotlight fell on our researchers when the Research & Enterprise newsletter; RE:ACTION chose to showcase our unique partnership with the University of Southampton as an example of what can be achieved through collaboration.

With kind permission of ISSUU we have reprinted the article in full below.

New Approaches to Fighting Breast Cancer

Professor Crispin’s team is exploring innovative ways to develop anti-cancer antibodies that can detect and destroy breast cancer cells, including secondary breast cancer, without damaging surrounding healthy tissue.

Charitable organisation, Against Breast Cancer (ABC), and Max Crispin, Professor of Glycobiology, have a partnership quite unlike any other. Having worked together for the past four years, the charity most recently relocated its research programme to the University of Southampton following Professor Crispin’s move south from the University of Oxford.

The collaboration between Professor Crispin’s team and Against Breast Cancer works because the two have such well aligned goals.

The ultimate aim of ABC is to stop secondary breast cancer from claiming lives, which goes hand in hand with the Glycoprotein Therapeutics Laboratory run by Professor Crispin. This is because the lab is developing new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of cancer based on refocusing of the immune system to destroy cancerous cells.

Professor Crispin explains, ‘Secondary cancer cells are decorated with abnormal sugars which are implicated in their ability to move around the body and establish secondary tumours. These sugars are potential targets for the antibody component of the body’s immune system. People who develop secondary cancer may benefit from antibodies that have been made that stick to these targets on cancer cells and render these secondary cancerous cells detectable by the immune system wherever they are in the body.’

Professor Crispin’s team is exploring innovative ways to develop anti-cancer antibodies that can detect and destroy breast cancer cells, including secondary breast cancer, without damaging surrounding healthy tissue.

He explains the extent of the collaborative nature of this cutting-edge research: ‘Against Breast Cancer is a remarkable charity. They realise the need for long-term support for challenging research programmes and our relationship has been cemented further by the charity’s continuing commitment to fund breast cancer research here at Southampton well into the future. We are lucky that the Against Breast Cancer research team includes Professor Steven Beers and Dr Charlie Birts within the Centre for Cancer Immunology who have the expertise to determine the effectiveness of the new drug candidates in pre-clinical models.

‘Against Breast Cancer has also stayed loyal to its Oxfordshire roots and has begun to fund a series of research fellowships at Oriel College, Oxford, where I am a Supernumerary Fellow. This year, two Oxford-based researchers, Dr Simon Lord and Dr Andrew Blackmore, were appointed. These positions really act to strengthen the wider breast cancer community and help forge close links between Oxford and Southampton.’

ABC itself brings important partnerships to bear on the research programme; a donation it received from Cisco has funded a four-year PhD position recently awarded to Hannah Smith, a recent graduate from the University of Bath.

Professor Crispin and the team ensure that the relationship is two way; all of the Southampton team working with ABC have got involved in fundraising and dedicated time for talks and open days to help the charity educate and raise awareness among its donors.

ABC’s Jeanne Chattoe, Chair of Trustees’, told us about the importance of the research at Southampton, ‘We need new treatments that target all types of secondary breast cancer cells before they have the chance to grow into tumours wherever they may be in the body. One of the factors that make us unique for a smaller charity is our history of funding long term projects which is why we have committed £2 million to funding research at Southampton going forward.’

Read more about our research here