Chris Lucas Trust started fundraising over 20 years, and 16 years in partnership with the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) is funding research into Rhabdomyosarcoma. Headed by Professor Janet Shipley, in collaboration with the Royal Marsden Hospital (RMH). The ICR, together with its clinical partner, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, forms the largest comprehensive cancer research.in Europe.
Sarcomas are cancers that can resemble bone or soft tissues. Rhabdomyosarcomas are the most common soft tissue sarcomas that occur in children and they tend to look like developing muscle or fibrous tissue. It is a highly aggressive form of childhood cancer with a variety of subtypes such as embryonal and alveolar which influence the outcome. They can originate in almost any part of the body and are commonly seen in the head and neck, abdomen, chest and bladder. There are around 70 new cases in the UK each year. They are currently treated using a combination of surgery (if possible), chemotherapy and radiotherapy which results in debilitating short and long term side-effects.
Mission Statement - Charitable Objects
The provision of funding for the employment of a scientific researcher to carry out research into rhabdomyosarcoma at such places and such times as the trustees deem appropriate and the dissemination of the useful results of such research for the benefit of the public.
Offering hope for children and teenagers with Rhabdomyosarcoma
The Chris Lucas Trust was set up after teenager Chris’s tragic death from rhabdomyosarcoma – a cancer that resembles muscle tissue – in July 2000. Chris’ parents, Lynn and Lynn, have so far raised over £2 million for research into rhabdomyosarcoma at the ICR and continue 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 a career in graphic design, the cancer finally took Chris after three years. The Chris Lucas Trust hopes to enable the rapid translation of new targeted therapies 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 and young people.
Chris’ mum, Lynn, says: “The Chris Lucas Trust chose to support the ICR since we believe in their commitment to develop new drugs to help children and young adults suffering from cancer to live longer, and ultimately to find a cure for rhabdomyosarcoma. We recognised their expertise in childhood cancer when we first sought advice about funding research."
Any parent would dread being told their child has cancer, something we have sadly been through. But a diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma is a truly devastating one as there are currently no effective targeted treatments for the aggressive form of this disease. However children and teenagers with rhabdomyosarcoma could one day be offered more effective treatments thanks to scientists funded by the Chris Lucas Trust who are developing treatments targeted at the specific genetic flaws driving the growth of these deadly tumours.
Our scientists are looking at the genetic profiles of tumours to support the development of new drugs for those children’s sarcomas that at present respond poorly to existing standard treatment – which can have harmful and long-lasting side effects.
We are constantly requesting grants from various organisations to support a programme of research into rhabdomyosarcoma that we hope will one day lead to a cure and other families not having to go through the tragic loss of one of their children, as we did.
The funding will go towards key research projects that are leading to changes in the way we classify and treat rhabdomyosarcomas. Our supported research results have been published in a number of important scientific journals, presented at specialist meetings and, most importantly, are being taken forward for clinical benefit through The Institute of Cancer Research, The Royal Marsden and the European Soft Tissue Sarcoma Group.
Why this research is needed – the biology of childhood cancers
Little is known about the underlying biology of childhood cancers, and children still tend to be treated with older-style, un-specific and toxic chemotherapy drugs designed for adults, so the side-effects can be harmful. We believe the way to improve outcomes for children with poor-prognosis cancers is to support research to understand the whole disease process, from the initial genetic changes to the molecular features of tumours themselves, and to use this information to pinpoint new treatment targets on the tumour cells.
This will enable the development of new targeted therapies which are more precise in their action and less likely to cause side-effects. Our scientists then seek to either match an existing targeted therapy to the tumour or, if one does not exist, to design a new one. Our aim is to develop tailored treatments for all children, in the fastest possible time, with maximum benefit and minimum side-effects.
Offering hope for children and young adults
Using cutting-edge technology to find the genes associated with the development of rhabdomyosarcoma, the Chris Lucas Trust researchers, are unpicking the cascade of events which causes cancer cells to spiral out of control during the disease’s development.
For example, work supported by the Chris Lucas Trust already carried out on rhabdomyosarcoma has shown that by reducing levels of certain enzymes or by inhibiting their function decreases the ability of rhabdomyosarcoma cells to grow. Up till now, there have been no commercially available drugs specific to these type of enzymes. The aim is to create drugs that are more target-specific, thus less toxic for a patient and therefore more effective. Promising new agents are now ready to be tested in cancer cells.
Our close working relationship with The Institute of Cancer Research and the links with The Royal Marsden, as well as national and European organisations enable us to be at the forefront of sarcoma research with potential to move discoveries forward to benefit patients with rhabdomyosarcoma. At present, children and teenagers with aggressive rhabdomyosarcoma have a poor outlook, but there is at last some hope that effective treatments may be on the horizon.
What’s needed to keep this research moving forward
A previously Chris Lucas Trust supported scientist who is a bioinformatician at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics, has agreed to perform future bioinformatic analyses using gene expression data, as well as integrating analyses of new gene sequencing to identify genetic mutations in tumours and other data. This will identify further markers that will be assessed for their ability to optimise assignment of current treatments as well as identify high-risk patients for novel therapeutic strategies. In conjunction with other research groups, our scientists will also use bioinformatic approaches to identify and support studies on new molecular targets for therapeutic intervention.
The Chris Lucas Trust has also previously supported an experienced scientist over the last three years, whose work has been instrumental in taking forward introduction of a particular gene as a marker for high-risk disease as well as providing laboratory-based evidence for the novel molecular targets identified in rhabdomyosarcoma cells. We aim to continue to support this post to enable in further work on additional molecular markers, and her research to identify strategies that inhibit novel molecular targets in cancer cells.
Finally we would like to provide essential research support activities associated with their work. This includes the management of tumour samples collected from around the UK, making DNA from these samples for identification of tumour specific mutations, experimental analyses of markers and essential work on models of rhabdomyosarcoma that provide essential pre-clinical evidence to support new therapeutic strategies.