Extensive reanalysis and preclinical investigations continue
The Against Breast Cancer research programmes at the University of Southampton span the themes of prevention, detection, and therapy of secondary breast cancer. These research themes are supported by both the Therapeutic Antibody and the ABC Discover programme grants.
COVID-19 has had an impact as some, but not all, experimental lines of work have had to be postponed. However, the breadth of our activities has given some resilience with efforts being accelerated in data analysis and writing up of existing work, and the extensive reanalysis of existing publicly deposited clinical trial data using our advances in data analytics.
While the School of Biological Sciences and the Centre for Cancer Immunology has been closed for research over the lockdown period, we have been able to continue with ongoing preclinical investigations on the effect of diet and obesity on breast cancer. Being able to continue these experiments has allowed for the continuation and ongoing development of these preclinical models.
Restarting research projects
Since our ABC research laboratory infrastructure has been maintained in an operationally ready-to-go state, we envisage that the areas most affected will quickly be back up-to-speed as experimental work is resumed. However, there will necessarily be a degree of prioritisation of experimental efforts to aspects of projects considered most strategically important.
“We have been able to continue our long-term work on the metabolic impact on breast cancer and we are well-placed to accelerate this work as the lockdown eases.”
Dr Charlie Birts
At the time of writing (mid-June), the most pressing issue is successfully reinitiating experimental work across all personnel. As we currently understand, the University plans to allow access on a staged basis. We hope that this process will start imminently but timelines could be substantially affected should there be a local outbreak. Currently, levels of COVID-19 are very low in Southampton so we are hopeful that this process will run smoothly.
“We have shifted our activities to accelerate the development of advanced algorithms for the analysis of existing clinical trial data for breast cancer and are already revealing new features of the disease that have previously not been detected.”
Dr Paul Skipp
Making up for lost time
You can never really catch-up without a step-level change in resources. However, advances in the experimental areas which we have been able to continue throughout the lockdown and acceleration of non-laboratory-based activities will mean that the impact of COVID-19 will be less discernible.
Our current view is there will be little long-term impact on the progress of the work. However, this is contingent on successful easing of the lockdown.
“It is critical that young scientists continue to be attracted to a career in breast cancer research and your continued support has never been more important.”
Professor Max Crispin
In April 2020, Professor Crispin and his team lent their skills and expertise in the field of Glycobiology to better understand how Covid-19 manages to evade the immune system, aiding in the hunt for a Coronavirus vaccine.