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Research Focus: Repurposing existing drugs to improve outcomes in Ewing sarcoma

Little Princess Trust grant helps team at University of Leeds

Ewing sarcoma is a type of bone cancer (but which can also rarely occur in the soft tissues) and is the second most common primary sarcoma to affect children and young people.

For patients where the disease has spread to other parts of the body (drug resistant metastatic disease) long-term survival and quality of life is poor.

In part this is because current treatments are not able to get rid of the ‘driver tumour cells’ that are responsible for drug resistance and recurrence, the so called Ewing’s sarcoma cancer stem-like cells (ES-CSCs). New drug treatment options for this group of Ewing’s sarcoma patients are critically needed.

Using a special laboratory technique, Dr Susan Burchill’s team at the University of Leeds has isolated and studied ES-CSCs from the tumours of patients with Ewing’s sarcoma at both the diagnosis and relapse stages.

This has helped them to understand the behaviour of these cells. The team is now exploring whether we can use this knowledge to develop diagnostic and treatment approaches to improve the outcomes for patients with this type of disease.  

However the discovery of completely new drugs is likely to take over 10 years. In this study - supported by The Little Princess Trust - the team will examine existing drugs known as ‘small molecule inhibitors’ and see whether they could be repurposed for the treatment of Ewing sarcoma within a relatively short period of time.

Since additional patient benefit might be achieved by a combination of anticancer agents to overcome the development of resistance, Dr Burchill’s team will test the effectiveness of small molecules alone and also in combination with each other and with current chemotherapy treatments.

As drug resistance is such an issue when treating Ewing’s sarcoma, the grant of £111,246 from The Little Princess Trust will also allow the team to particularly look to see which compounds aren’t as prone to developing resistance pathways which would limit their clinical usefulness. 

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The MBE for voluntary groups was awarded to The Little Princess Trust by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.