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Department of Oncology Engages the Public at BRC Open Day

On Monday 19 May, the atrium of the West Wing of the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford was turned into a public engagement space, with stands from every area of medical research covered by the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).

A large number of teams participated in the NIHR Oxford BRC Public Open Day, including one from the Department of Oncology, who showcased research in various areas of cancer research and illustrated science taken from three clinical trials which are running at the moment.

The first, in melanoma, looks at whether the signal which tells cancer cells to divide can be turned-off or silenced.  All cells divide in response to regulating signals - signals telling them when to divide or when not to.  Cancer cells often overreact to the divide signals or even make the signals themselves.  In Oxford, researchers are testing a drug that might combat this, slowing or stopping the tumour growth.

The second looks at the blood supply that feeds the tumour.  In many tumours the blood supply is there, but chaotic.  This means that areas of the tumour are poorly provided with oxygen.  This sounds like a good thing, but a poor supply of oxygen can make it difficult to get the anti-tumour drugs to these regions and the lack of oxygen can make radiotherapy ineffective.  Scientists from the Department of Oncology are running a trial to test a drug that helps briefly normalise the blood supply so that chemo- and radio-therapy might be more effective.

The third display focussed on boosting the body's immune system.  Cancer cells are different to healthy cells, but they seem to evade the immune system.  A study is underway to test a drug that might boost the immune response to the tumour.

Visitors to the Department's stand were encouraged to try their hand at scoring tumour biopsies to decide on which course of treatment might work.  They were also asked to try and redesign a tumour blood supply to improve delivery of chemotherapy.

During the course of the event, the team spoke to many people, including patients, visiting relatives, and hospital staff.  It was a very successful day helping people to understand these trials, what lies behind them, and why they might make a difference.

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