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08 Feb 2018

Setting their sights on cancer relapse

An Australian-led team has been shortlisted for Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge Award: the world's most ambitious cancer research grant.

A multi-disciplinary team of scientists from research institutes across Australia, Israel, the UK and the USA has been shortlisted to the final stages of Cancer Research UK's Grand Challenge* – an ambitious series of £20m global grants tackling some of the toughest questions in cancer research.

The project aims to demystify the phenomenon of ‘cell dormancy’ – where cancer cells not killed by initial treatment can ‘go to sleep’ for months or years, only to wake later and start to form a new cancer. The reawakening of dormant cells often happens without warning, making the returning cancers hard to predict and treat, often with devastating effect.

The researchers seek to accelerate understanding of cancer cell dormancy and to answer questions once thought impossible to solve: Why do cancer cells become dormant? And what causes them to wake up and form a new cancer? Their Grand Challenge project aims to create a map of the biological environment around dormant cancer cells in space and time, and to uncover the processes that control them – with the ultimate aim of stopping an individual’s cancer from returning.

Led by Professor Peter Croucher (Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney), the international team involves researchers at Garvan, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and the University of Adelaide in Australia, as well as Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, the Babraham Institute (UK), University of Oxford (UK), Yale University (USA), Princeton University (USA) and Washington University (USA).

The team will now be given the opportunity to draft their full research proposal with support from Cancer Research UK, and the winning proposals will be announced in late 2018.

This is the second round of Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge award and last year four teams were awarded up to £20 million each**.

Dr Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK, said: “Round two of Grand Challenge is proving to be incredibly inspiring and the ambitious applications reflect the quality of global researchers this initiative has attracted to beat cancer sooner. We’re delighted with the teams we’ve shortlisted and look forward to hearing more about how they plan to tackle the toughest challenges in cancer research.”

Dr Rick Klausner, chair of Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge advisory panel, said: “The challenges set for Grand Challenge have once again attracted some of the best researchers in the world. I’m looking forward to see how global collaboration could bring together diverse expertise, invigorate areas of research, and overcome barriers in ways that aren’t happening at this point in time.”

Professor Croucher said, “We're so excited by the prospect of support from the Cancer Research UK Grand Challenge. This is an unprecedented opportunity to crack the problem of why some cancer cells sleep, then wake.

“It was once thought that understanding cancer cell dormancy was an insurmountably difficult problem, because of the immense technological challenges in finding and studying sleeping cells. But recent research progress in this area has been remarkable – and our project harnesses world-leading technology and multidisciplinary expertise from across the globe so that we can advance our understanding at an unprecedented rate.

“Solving this challenge will revolutionise understanding of cancer and bring new meaning to a “cure” for cancer.”



For media enquiries about the team and their research, contact:

Garvan Institute of Medical Research: Dr Meredith Ross – – 0439 873258

QIMR Berghofer: Brooke Baskin – – 07 3362 0280 – 0427 179 216

University of Adelaide: Crispin Savage – – 08 8313 7194

For media enquiries about Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge award contact Stephanie McClellan in the Cancer Research UK press office on +44 20 3469 5314 or, out of hours, on +44 7050 264 059.


Notes to editor:

* See website for more information:

** These teams are working to identify preventable causes of cancer; creating virtual maps of tumours; preventing unnecessary breast cancer treatment; and studying tumour metabolism from the atomic to the tumour level. See previously funded awards:

See website for more information:

About the research team:

Led by Professor Peter Croucher (Head, Bone Biology Division, Garvan), the multi-disciplinary research team includes researchers from four countries and with a wide range of expertise:


Prof Peter Croucher (Garvan) – Bone biology, tumour dormancy

Prof Susan Clark (Garvan) – Genomics and epigenetics

A/Prof Tri Phan (Garvan) – Intravital microscopy

Prof Mark Smyth (QIMR Berghofer) – Tumour immunology

Prof Andrew Zannettino (University of Adelaide) – Experimental haematology


Prof Ido Amit (Weizmann Institute) – Immunogenomics


A/Prof Claire Edwards (Oxford) – Bone oncology

Prof Wolf Reik (Babraham Institute) – Epigenetics


Prof Katherine Weilbaecher (Washington University) – Molecular oncology

Professor Sheila Stewart (Washington University) – Aging in the tumour microenvironment

Prof Madhav Dhodapkar (Yale University) – Haematology

Professor Yibin Kang (Princeton University) – Bone metastasis


About Cancer Research UK:

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