Project to understand beginnings of rare childhood cancer awarded innovation funding

Sam Behjati and collaborators at University College London hope to identify new treatment targets by uncovering foetal origins of rhabdomysarcoma.

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A new project to understand the origins of rhabdomysarcoma (RMS), a skeletal muscle cancer that primarily affects children, is one of five research projects to receive new Cancer Research UK-Children with Cancer UK Innovation Awards funding*.

The research, which will be led by Dr Sam Behjati of the Wellcome Sanger Institute and Dr Karin Straathof of University College London, will build an atlas of the cells that can go on to form RMS in the hope of identifying new treatment targets.

The biology of RMS is largely unexplored, but is thought to originate from cells in the foetus that develop incorrectly. Some of these cells persist in children with RMS, when usually they wouldn’t.

“Although treatments have dramatically improved over the past few decades, children continue to suffer from rhabdomyosarcoma, with very few novel treatment approaches in sight. Moreover, survivors often experience lifelong adverse effects from treatment. I hope that our research will ultimately translate into benefits for children with rhabdomyosarcoma, in particular, better treatments.”

Dr Sam Behjati, Group Leader at the Wellcome Sanger Institute

Co-funded by Cancer Research UK and Children with Cancer UK, the five teams of scientists who are leaders in their field have been awarded up to £1 million each to delve into the biology of children’s and young people’s cancers, with the hope of finding new ways to prevent and treat these complex cancers.

Other funded teams will investigate why some children and young people are at greater risk of developing cancer; why chromosome duplication happens in the cells of children with cancer; re-programming a patient’s immune cells so that they attack cancer; and improving outcomes for children whose blood cancer comes back**.

“We’ve listened to both parents and researchers and their concerns about lack of progress for children’s and young people’s cancers. That’s why we made a commitment to change this through our Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People research strategy.

“We are thrilled to be working with Children with Cancer UK in co-funding the Innovation Awards. This funding represents the dawning of a new age of investment into cancers that affect children and young people, and the awards are a key part of our research strategy.

“We hope this funding boost will build momentum in the field to improve our understanding of these types of cancer and ultimately lead to fewer children and young people losing their lives to this disease.”

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK

More information

*About the Innovation Awards

  • The Cancer Research UK-Children with Cancer UK Innovation Awards are a new initiative launched by Cancer Research UK as part of their commitment to fund more research into children’s and young people’s cancers.
  • Children with Cancer UK have contributed £2.17m towards the awards and will therefore be co-funding the research projects equally with Cancer Research UK.
  • The awards are designed to support new and innovative research ideas to help improve our knowledge and understanding of children’s and young people’s cancers.
  • Five research teams have been awarded a grant of up to £1m over three years.

** For further information about the five projects awarded funding, see: