Stevenage researcher’s major advance in cancer treatment

A geneticist who gained his love of science at a Comet country school has developed a groundbreaking technique for tackling cancer which could help improve treatment and detection.

Tim Forshew of Stevenage Old Town is part of a team of researchers at Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Research Institute which has developed a method for screening cancer and its treatment through a blood test.

The 32-year-old said researchers have been trying to measure the efficacy of treatments by analysing blood samples of cancer patients, but until now could only measure a few mutations at a time.

“In some cancers a small number of cells will die and their faulty DNA ends up in your blood. For some time now people have been trying to detect this DNA in blood tests and use it to monitor how a cancer patient’s treatment is working or eventually even to see if this could be used to detect cancer earlier.

“We have developed the first test that can screen large regions of DNA. In the research we have just published we screened blood from women with a particular subtype of ovarian cancer for nearly 20,000 possible mutations in their DNA. For 20 patients out of 38 we were able to find and quantify their cancer causing mutations just through this blood test.

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“The aim is that by finding and quantifying these mutations we may be able to tell how well their treatment is working and whether it should be changed. Since publishing this work we have now also started developing this blood test on other types of cancer.”

Dr Forshew, who grew up in the Old Town, said his love of science was sparked by a teacher at Barclay School in Stevenage.

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“I had a number of great teachers at Barclay. One that stands out though was David Mountney, a brilliant science teacher who played a big part in convincing me to study the three sciences at A level. During my A levels I spent a week’s placement in GlaxoSmithKline Stevenage, which had just opened at the time. This convinced me to go and study genetics at the University of Birmingham.

“I have always enjoyed problem solving. The big hope is that ideas I develop will play a small part in improving how patients are treated. I particularly enjoy seeing how new technologies can be developed and adapted to improve both our understanding of cancer and its treatment.”

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