Institute of Genetics and Cancer

New partnerships to accelerate cancer research  

Scientists from the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre will participate in two newly funded Cancer Research UK Accelerator Award programmes: February 2020


Cancer Research UK and its European partners, Fondazione AIRC and Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer (AECC), will invest £27.4 million into seven new international projects to accelerate lifesaving cancer research. Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre investigators will contribute to two of these newly awarded Accelerator Award projects.

Professor Val Brunton and her group will participate in the project titled “Improving neoadjuvant therapy in high‐risk sarcomas”. The project aims to provide a set of novel resources for the sarcoma community to (1) facilitate the development of next‐generation predictive and prognostic biomarkers incorporating genomic and digital pathology data, (2) utilise advanced Artificial Intelligence workflows to enhance the accuracy of noninvasive evaluation of tumour response, and (3) catalyse new lines of research based on in‐depth tumour profiling, mouse model generation and drug response assessment. It will be undertaken by researchers from Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust; the Institute of Cancer Research - London; University of Birmingham, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, University of Edinburgh, Fondazione IRCCS - Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori – Milano, and Instituto de Biomedicina de Sevill. The outcomes of the project are expected to underpin the design of new trials with direct impact on clinical practice.

The long-term outcomes for most soft tissue sarcoma patients is poor and survival rates have not improved over the last two decades.  This accelerator will address this by bringing together a multidisciplinary team of clinicians, biologists and data scientists to enhance our understanding of the underlying biology of the disease which will underpin the design of new clinical trials in the future

Professor Val BruntonCancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre, University of Edinburgh

Professor Neil Carragher and his team will participate in the project titled “Accelerating our ability to understand and target complexity and heterogeneity in cancer through automated imaging of 3D cancer models including patient derived organoids”. Developing new cancer therapies requires improved understanding of drug resistance and heterogeneity in cell behaviour and there is increasing interest in more complex 3D tissue models, such as patient-derived organoids (PDO) that better recapitulate the complexity of the in vivo context compared to conventional (single-readout) high throughput assays of homogenous 2D cell cultures. However, increasing the physiological complexity of cancer models also increases their opacity and scale – limiting opportunities for high throughput (phenotypic) screening. The project aims to explore the trade-off between complexity of cancer models and power of assays (in terms of single cell resolution and throughput) by developing and sharing modular open source automated high-content-analysis instrumentation optimised for 3D imaging of complex cell cultures presenting a range of optical properties. It will also explore the cell culture approaches and sample preparation techniques to enable researchers to optimise a complex 3D assays to address specific cancer biology questions. The project will be undertaken by scientists from Imperial College London, the Francis Crick Institute, University of Edinburgh, The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Instituto de Recerca Biomedica.

This accelerator directly addresses the current limitations in imaging hardware and software for robust phenotypic screening across complex 3D models of disease. The award will further enhance the existing high content imaging facilities available within the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre to beyond the latest state-of-the-art, enabling automated screening across a variety of 3D models, including organoids, at previously unattainable depths, resolution and speed

Professor Neil CarragherCancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre, University of Edinburgh

About the Cancer Research UK Accelerator Awards programme

The Cancer Research UK Accelerator Awards programme provides five years of funding for cutting-edge research projects. It also reflects a longstanding link between the UK and Europe, working together to drive progress for people affected by cancer.


Cancer Research UK press release:

Professor Valerie Brunton group website:

Professor Neil Carragher group website:

Information about soft tissue sarcoma:

The Current Landscape of 3D In Vitro Tumor Models: What Cancer Hallmarks Are Accessible for Drug Discovery?: