Scotlands Top Innovator named for advances in Cancer treatment

Scotlands Top Innovator named for advances in Cancer treatment

Groundbreaking research and development in the field of Cancer treatment has won a Dundee-based doctor Scotland’s top new award for innovation. Dr Barbara Spruce, who is based at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School at The University of Dundee, has been named the winner of the first Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of the Royal Society of Edinburgh,*1 a coveted title which also carries a cheque for fifty thousand pounds and a specially commissioned gold medal*2. Dr Spruce wins the award for her ongoing work in developing what may represent an important treatment advance for cancer patients. Barbara Spruce has identified an Achilles’ heel in cancer cells and a way to cause some of them to self-destruct, without harming normal cells. Through Dr Spruce’s innovation, this new discovery is well on its way from bench to bedside. Dr Spruce considers the great advantage of the new research to be that the treatment will be largely devoid of side effects and could be used alone or alongside conventional cancer therapies. When used together with chemotherapy or radiotherapy, dosages of these could be reduced, lessening side effects in turn and treatments could be tailored specifically to the patients’ needs. Dr Spruce also cites evidence that this treatment may tackle cancers that don’t respond well to conventional therapies, opening up new options and hope for some patients with more aggressive disease*3.

Following an open competition run by The Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Winner and the Silver Medallists were selected by a distinguished judging panel, Chaired by Lord Ross, comprising: Sir Bruce Pattullo; Professor Andy Walker; Dr Ian Sword and Chairman of Trustees of The Gannochy Trust, Dr Russell Leather. Many of Scotland’s business leaders assembled at a prestigious awards ceremony held at Scone Palace on Saturday 21 June to learn who the winner of the top level contest would be. They and the three Finalists remained in suspense until the Scottish Nobel Laureate and distinguished Scientist and Innovator, Professor Sir James Black*4 announced the judges’ decision to award The Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of the Royal Society of Edinburgh to Dr Barbara Spruce.

Reacting to the announcement, Dr Barbara Spruce said:
I feel extremely honoured and delighted to have won such a prestigious award. I am particularly pleased that The Royal Society of Edinburgh and The Gannochy Trust have recognised the novelty of our work and its potential importance to the clinic. What is vital about this award is that the prize money will help us to take the next crucial steps towards testing these drugs in patients with cancer. It will also assist us in our longer term goal of linking with a corporate partner to generate improved versions of the existing drugs.

Silver medals were awarded to Dr Axel Knebel and Dr Ian McEwan whose work was also considered by the judging panel to be outstanding.

RSE President, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood said:
Dr Barbara Spruce is a very worthy winner of this the inaugural Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of The Royal Society of Edinburgh. It is right that we should seek to encourage and reward our most talented innovators for work which has the potential to benefit Scotland; that is the purpose of this new award. Barbara Spruce’s research and development clearly has the potential to make a very real impact on wellbeing internationally. Each of tonight’s Finalists has made an outstanding contribution to their field of expertise and it is for this reason that we have chosen to award Silver Medals to both of the other Finalists. I am grateful to Lord Ross who has Chaired the distinguished selection panel and to its judges: Sir Bruce Pattullo, Professor Andy Walker, Dr Ian Sword and Chairman of Trustees of The Gannochy Trust, Dr Russell Leather. We look forward to a fruitful partnership with The Gannochy Trust, with the expectation that this Award will stimulate and encourage our young and gifted people to use their talents to the full, for the future wellbeing of Scotland.

The Gannochy Trust’s Chairman, Russell Leather said:
The Trustees of the Gannochy Trust are delighted with the very high standard of work submitted for this important, new award. We share the view of the RSE that it is of great importance for our Nation’s future that we encourage younger people to pursue careers in fields of research which promote Scotland’s inventiveness internationally. Our joint award recognises outstanding individual achievement which contributes to the common good of Scotland. The experience of being a judge for this event has been inspiring. The winning Innovator has every reason to be proud of attaining an outstanding level of achievement.

Notes for Editors:

* 1    About The Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
The Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of the Royal Society of Edinburgh is Scotland’s highest accolade for individual achievement in innovation and has been being created to encourage and reward Scotland’s young innovators for work which benefits Scotland’s wellbeing. The award will be presented annually to a young innovator whose work has the potential to promote social and economic wellbeing. Established in partnership between The Gannochy Trust and The Royal Society of Edinburgh, the purpose of the new award is to encourage younger people to pursue careers in fields of research which promote Scotland’s inventiveness internationally, and to recognise outstanding individual achievement which contributes to the common good of Scotland. The prestigious award also seeks to promote Scotland’s research and development capability in new technologies and areas of social importance.

Targeted at a new generation of Scottish innovator, any individual aged 45 or under working in Scotland is eligible to compete for the award. Competition entries from fields of research and development which have demonstrable potential to benefit Scotland’s social or economic wellbeing, have been sought. Funded by The Gannochy Trust, the award is run by The Royal Society of Edinburgh.

* 2     Creating the Gold Medal presented to the Winner of the inaugural Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of The Royal Society of Edinburgh
The Medal which was presented to the Winner of the inaugural Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of The Royal Society of Edinburgh has been specially commissioned for the purpose (J.pg available). The medal has been forged, struck and hand engraved in twenty two-carat gold by the distinguished designer and engraver Malcolm Appleby of Grandtully by Aberfeldy. Mr Appleby's work has been exhibited in many of the world's most prestigious museums and galleries. His commissions include a Skirted Cup, presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, engraving work on an orb for His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales' coronet, and pieces for The Royal Armouries, The Victoria & Albert Museum, the National Museums of Scotland, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Perth Museum. Mr Appleby also designed and produces The Royal Medal, presented annually through The Royal Society of Edinburgh.

* 3    A Fuller Account of the Winner’s work with quotes from Dr Barbara Spruce:
Dr Barbara Spruce, after twenty years of research appears, to be approaching a major breakthrough for cancer sufferers. The breakthrough had its roots in Spruce’s discovery that opioids, the body’s natural feel good hormones, which include enkephalins and endorphins, may be doing more than

influencing mood and behaviour – they can control cell death with major implications for destroying cancer cells. But as opioids are complex molecules with many different activities, it has taken time to decipher the key elements that cause the death of cancer cells.

Dr Spruce explains:
Apoptosis – the cell’s natural self-destruct mechanism that normally guards against damage is impeded in all cancers. Without this mechanism, cancer cells survive, multiply and spread throughout the body – with devastating consequences. Resistance to apoptosis can also prevent traditional cancer therapies from working – the cells do not destruct when treated with radiation or chemotherapy. It has been a goal of cancer researchers for some time to restore apoptosis within tumours. But the challenge has been, how to accomplish this selectively so that normal cells remain unharmed. The essence of our discovery is that cancer cells, through their selfish will to survive, have inadvertently burdened themselves with a vulnerability - an Achilles’ heel – whose sole means of protection seems to involve a pathway linked to opioids. When we switch off this protective pathway, the apoptotic self-destruct mechanism is unleashed in the cancer cells. But importantly, normal cells can tolerate this with no noticeable ill-effects.

It was quite a Eureka moment the first time I administered antibodies that would interfere with opioids to tumour cells and found that when I looked down the microscope the cells were dying by apoptosis.


This new discovery is well on its way from bench to bedside, as an existing drug which has already been tested in humans for other applications is the most potent anti-tumour agent amongst the compounds they are currently testing.

Barbara Spruce explains:
Many drugs that target opioid and related pathways have been developed – to improve mood and to provide pain relief, for example, so it was very fortuitous that many compounds were available for us to test. This clarified which specific types of drug were best at causing cancer cells to self-destruct. This has turned out to be crucial, since particular classes of opiates can act in opposition to each other - no doubt Mother Nature’s way of ensuring balance in the system. So we have had to find a way to affect one side of the coin without the other compensating in return.

The great advantage of this new discovery is that the treatment will be largely devoid of side effects and could be used alone or alongside conventional cancer therapies. When used together with chemotherapy or radiotherapy, dosages of these could be reduced, lessening side effects in turn. Treatments could be tailored specifically to the patients’ needs. There is also evidence that this treatment may tackle cancers that don’t respond well to conventional therapies, opening up new options and hope for patients with more aggressive disease.

Professor Alastair Thompson, Professor of Surgical Oncology at Dundee Ninewells Hospital explains the potential of Barbara Spruce’s work:
The new treatment will enable us to treat patients who at the moment we don’t really have any treatments for. What’s different about this novel attack on the sigma receptors is that it enables us to get at an Achilles’ heel that we really didn't know existed in most tumours until the recent work that has been done here.
Biographical Information on Dr Barbara Spruce ~ The Winner of The Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of The Royal Society of Edinburgh 2003
Barbara Spruce, who is 45 years of age, lives in Perthshire and works in Dundee. She obtained her medical degree from the University of Newcastle Medical School in 1979. She followed this with her MRCP in 1981. From 1985 to 86 Barbara was a Medical Research Council Training Fellow in Molecular Endocrinology at Imperial College, London. She followed this with a Research Fellowship in the Molecular and Cellular Biology of Endocrine Systems, based in the Department of Biochemistry at Imperial College, and was awarded her PhD from this institution in 1990.

The next ten years saw Barbara based in Dundee as a Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Research Fellow within the Wellcome Trust Biocentre and Ninewells Hospital. In 2001 she became a Scottish Enterprise Tayside Commercialisation Fellow at Ninewells Hospital and Medical School. Her group received a Proof of Concept Award from Scottish Enterprise for their project on "Methods to identify novel compounds that have optimal anti-tumour activity." Barbara also has ongoing current research projects; one on the biology of the sigma receptor in tumour cells and one on the translation of small molecule modulators of sigma receptor function from bench to clinic.

It is for Barbara Spruce’s innovative technology to fight cancer cells that she has been shortlisted as a finalist for this innovation award.

* 4     Presentation of Cheque by Professor Sir James Black, OM, FRS, Hon FRSE ~ Background Information
The work of Professor Sir James Black, one of the United Kingdom’s most distinguished Scientists, has benefited untold numbers of patients throughout the world. Responsible for fundamental advances in pharmacology, his discovery of highly effective drugs has revolutionised the treatment of disease. His achievements are unique, as no one else in the pharmaceutical industry can claim discovery of two blockbuster drugs in such different fields. Sir James is most noted for his development of the renowned “b-blocker” drugs, notably propanolol, which changed cardiovascular therapeutics beyond recognition. He also profoundly improved the therapy of the peptic ulcer with cimetidine, which selectively blocks the effects of histamine on the stomach and heart with minimal toxicity. Sir James is one Nobel Laureate whose research has had a very direct effect on human health worldwide. The winner of countless awards, Sir James received The Royal Medal from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh in 2001.

* 5     A Fuller Account of Dr Ian McEwan’s work ~ Silver Medallist The Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of The Royal Society of Edinburgh 2003 with quotes from him:
Reacting to the announcement made at Scone Palace, Dr McEwan said:
Being awarded a Silver Medal in this award is a significant moment in the development of Brinker Technology. It is a personal honour and a wonderful recognition of the innovative capacity of the team behind its creation. The Award creates a springboard to push the technology forward on to commercial success, contributing to the Scottish economy and drawing international attention to the culture of innovation in Scotland.

Dr McEwan has formed Brinker Technology, a major new spinout company from the University of Aberdeen, to take forward the commercialisation of his Advanced Technology for Leak Location and Sealing, know as ATLLAS. His innovative work has the potential to seal leaks in pipelines in the oil, gas and water industry, with considerable financial implications for these industries, as well as for the environment. Ian McEwan has developed the technology for sealing leaks through the invention of Platelets™, which are based on an elegant bio-physical analogy with the human body’s own "leak defence" system. Some of the best and most innovative ideas are also the simplest and, for Ian McEwan, inspiration struck on a crowded commuter train some six years ago.

Dr Ian McEwan explains:
I was actually reading a paper about the leakage problems in the UK water industry. While sitting in the railway carriage I accidentally cut my finger on a piece of paper which I had been reading. Sitting there, holding my finger, it occurred to me that the human body does an excellent job sealing leaks, and the obvious question then, when reading about problems of the UK water industry with leakage, was to say – "well can we not take the concept that is present in all of our bodies’ platelets and deploy them for use in pressurised pipe systems". So the idea is simply this, that we inject mechanical objects that we call Platelets™ into a pipeline, they move downstream with the flow, are then drawn into the leak; they are held against it and they seal the leak. A Platelet™ is designed for the specific pipeline or fluid carrying system that it is to be used on; typically it will be made out of some polymer or plastic and that will be chosen to reflect the fluid conditions in the particular pipeline. We have also extended the idea from the analogy with the human body by embedding inside the Platelets™ a tracker, or electronic chip, so that when a Platelet™ is drawn into the leak, the position of that leak is then marked and can be then obtained from a sensor device that we pass down the pipeline. This could also potentially been done by external detection, so that the marking process allows us not only to seal the leak, but then to determine where it actually is, so a permanent repair can be made.
The technology has obvious potential for many industries but a key market was right on Ian McEwan’s doorstep.

Dr McEwan explains:
It’s important for a company to have a sharp focus. Being in Aberdeen with the Scottish interest in energy it was a very clear and obvious place to begin with. My own background, the ready access to the oil and gas industry in Aberdeen and a knowledge of the problems they face, made it an obvious choice.
Leaks can cost the oil and gas industry millions of pounds, and the cost to the environment is incalculable as the Chairman of Brinker Technology, Bernie Anson explains:
It is a significant problem. The DTI started an initiative DTIHSC about two years ago to reduce the leakages in the UK sector by about 50% and a substantial programme to do that, so it’s not just the lost production, in the off shore industry, but the environmental impact of losing oil and gas into the off shore environment. This technology has application in the oil and gas industry but also others, like the water industry. The potential for Brinker technology is actually huge. The number of jobs that will be created is very difficult to predict at this point in time, but it could be fairly substantial. The other side is that it brings income into Aberdeen and I think the third thing it does for Aberdeen and Scotland is to portray an image of a company which is in a high technology industry, and promoting that technology world wide.

Biographical Information on Dr Ian McEwan ~ Silver Medallist The Gannochy Trust Innovation Award of The Royal Society of Edinburgh 2003
Ian McEwan is 37 years of age and lives and works in Aberdeen. He did his Batchelor Science Degree at the University of Aberdeen and graduated in 1988. He followed this with a PhD entitled "The Physics of Sand Transport by Wind" based in the Department of Engineering at Aberdeen. Ian rose through the ranks of Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and is now a Reader in the same department.

Ian’s interests lie in the elegance and challenge of fluid dynamics and particle mechanisms, with a particular focus on environmental hydraulics and specialisation in fluvial and aeolian sediment transport. In 1999 and 2000 he spent two periods of four months as a Visiting Research Fellow at the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd in Christchurch, New Zealand. This collaboration allowed Ian to work with one of the world’s leading experts in river turbulence and
this continues through two funded joint research projects, one based in New Zealand and one in the UK.

In January 2003 Ian founded Brinker Technology Ltd and is Technical Director of this spin-out company from the University of Aberdeen. The company was founded around Ian’s research and commercialisation work on pipeline leakage, primarily for the Oil and Gas industry. The outcome of this has been the invention of Platelets™ which are based on an elegant bio-physical analogy with the human body’s own "leak defence" system. It is for his innovative technology that Ian McEwan was chosen as a finalist for this award.

* 6    Photographs

A number of .jpgs are available from Stuart Brown at The Royal Society of Edinburgh (contacts below). Images available:

  •    Close-up shots of the Gold and Silver Medals
  •    Individual Head and shoulder shots of The Winner, Dr Barbara Spruce; The Silver Medallists, Dr Axel Knebel and Dr Ian McEwan; The President of the RSE, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood; The Chairman of The Gannochy Trust, Dr Russell Leather.
  •    Pool Photographer’s jpgs taken on evening of Winner; Silver Medallists; Presentation.


* 7     Video Footage
Copies of video featuring interviews with all three Finalists, explaining their work and its importance, are available from Stuart Brown at The Royal Society of Edinburgh (contacts below)

* 8    The Gannochy Trust is a grant-making Trust based in Perth, which makes donations to charities in Scotland, with a preference for Perth and its environs. The Trust was founded in 1937 by Arthur Kinmond Bell, whisky distiller and philanthropist, who had previously built a model housing estate of 150 houses in Perth.

In recent years the Trustees have enlarged the estate with a further 63 sheltered houses, which they maintain and administer, in addition to farms, recreation grounds and other properties.

A number of civic, recreational and social projects in Perth bear witness to major charitable support from the Trust. In addition, many small charities in Perth receive regular donations.

Other charitable organisations, large and small throughout Scotland, have been the recipients of donations from the Trust.

To speak to Dr Barbara Spruce, please contact Jane Smernicki,
University of Dundee Press Office on Mobile: 0791 900 3000

 

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