New hope for thousands of patients with advanced kidney cancer

TUF is delighted to introduce the first ever winner of The Urology Foundation Fulbright Scholarship, whose pioneering work could bring hope to the thousands of patients diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer in the UK each year.

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Cameron Alexander, an academic foundation doctor from Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and University of Glasgow received the award following his innovative proposal centring on a protein never studied before in relation to kidney cancer. His novel approach could lead to the development of new drugs and treatments for patients with widespread kidney cancer who currently have an alarming survival rate.

With very limited progress made in the last few decades, Cameron’s work could be a breakthrough. 

“Many patients who have advanced kidney cancer are a real challenge for urologists and oncologists,” says Cameron. “Kidney cancer is resistant to the treatments we use in other cancers, such as chemotherapy. So we need to take a more novel approach. Patients who have kidney cancer have an extremely poor prognosis if the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body – the median survival is approximately two years. And a high percentage of patients who only present with cancer in their kidney and who undergo a surgical procedure will also develop widespread kidney cancer.

“We are limited in terms of treatment options - kidney cancer is the 8th most common cancer in the UK and the ninth globally. Although some new drugs have been developed in the past 10 years with some success, these will stop working after a limited period because patients who have widespread kidney cancer develop resistance to the drugs.

“This is why I was motivated to undertake the project.”

Cameron's Project

Cameron’s project is a new approach which focuses on the role of the protein IQGAP1, a scaffold protein that exists normally within cells and simultaneously binds with a number of other proteins.

“We have good reason to think this protein could be very important in allowing proteins implicated in kidney cancer pathways to speak to each other”, said Cameron.

“Research into skin cancer has shown that if you inhibit this protein from binding to the other proteins you can inhibit tumour progression. We have a good idea how the protein works in other cancers but not kidney cancer. The project will examine how important this protein is in kidney cancer and what its role is.

“We will combine different lab methods with a clinical database of patients’ information such as age, gender, location and degree of cancer, and patients’ performance and survival rates. We will look at the amount of protein IQGAP1 expressed in the kidney cancer specimen and match it to survival and how the patient goes on to perform.

“If a relationship can be demonstrated between these components then we may have a biomarker that we can use to predict a patient’s prognosis and response to different treatments.

“The long term hope would be to develop treatments and drugs to target the protein by inhibiting the way it works. This is a new treatment strategy for patients who have widespread kidney cancer.”

Cameron's Trip

Cameron will spend six months studying at Stanford University in America,  under Associate Professor John Leppert. He was inspired to apply for The Urology Foundation Fulbright Scholarship because of Fulbright’s renowned reputation. The application process involved writing a project proposal demonstrating why the work was so important, he then submitted three recent written references and a list of relevant background papers. Cameron was shortlisted for interview and interviewed by a panel of four.

 “As a medical student Fulbright was an organisation I had long been aware of, it is an internationally renowned research scholarship and an incredible opportunity to learn from some of the best scientists in the world,” he said.

“I know all applications have to be of a very high standard so I am absolutely delighted to have been awarded it. It is fantastic that TUF is working with Fulbright in this way, TUF is making it possible for UK trainees to learn from some of the world’s greatest experts.

“This should appeal to all urologists who have an interest in academic research."


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