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Professor Frances Balkwill from University of London visits IBP

Updated: 2012-12-04

On 19th Nov. 2012, Frances R Balkwill OBE, FMedSci, Professor of cancer biology andDirector of the Centre for Cancer and Inflammation, Queen Mary, University of London, gave a lecture entitled “Targeting the inflammatory tumour microenvironment of ovarian cancer” at the Institute of Biophysics.

Professor Balkwill’s early work on interferons was the start of a lifelong interest in the cytokine network and its relevance to cancer. Her work has led to the realisation that cancer involves a complex cytokine network, that a proinflammatory microenvironment plays a role in tumour promotion and spread, and that there are strong links between chronic inflammation and cancer. Due to her excellent research work, Fran was selected to be a Fellow of The Academy of Medical Science in 2006.

In addition to her laboratory research, Fran has written many children's books about science and is Director of Centre of the Cell, a science education centre for children which is situated in the Barts and The London Medical School building in Whitechapel, East London. She received an EMBO Award for Communication in the Life Sciences in 2004.

In her report, Fran talked about new findings on ovarian cancer. 1) Her research group foundthat the three inflammatory cytokines TNF, CXCL12 and IL6are involved in human ovarian cancer by forming an autocrine network named the ‘TNF network’. 2) By combining preclinical and in silico experiments with a phase 2 clinical trial of the anti-IL-6 antibody siltuximab in patients with ovarian cancer, they showed that IL-6 stimulates inflammatory cytokine production, tumor angiogenesis, and tumor macrophage infiltration in ovarian cancer. These actions were inhibited by a neutralizing anti-IL-6 antibody in preclinical and clinical studies. 3) By analyzing clinical data on 619 patients with epithelial ovarian cancer, Fran’s group found that thrombocytosis is significantly associated with advanced disease and shortened survival, and proposed that Interleukin-6 paracrine signaling pathway mediates paraneoplastic thrombocytosis.

After the report, Fran had in-depth discussions with Professors QIN Zhihai, FU Yangxin, WANG Shengdian and other IBP researchers about further clinical studies of IL-6 antagonists alone or in combination with other therapies.

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