Research points to new therapies for bladder cancer

We’ve played a key role in a pioneering discovery that could help to improve the treatment of muscle-invasive bladder cancer - one of the most common cancers, particularly among men.

Professor Jenny Southgate, from our Department of Biology, is part of an international team that has uncovered an aggressive form of muscle-invasive cancer.

Drug treatment

The researchers found that this form of tumour could potentially be treated using drugs that target how the tumour cells multiply.

The study also identified specific biomarkers of this tumour sub-type and showed that potential targeted treatment was effective in preclinical models. Biomarkers refer to a test for identifying which patients carry this type of cancer.

The number of new cases of bladder cancers diagnosed in the UK was 10,399 in 2011, with up to 30 per cent of patients developing invasive tumours which infiltrate the muscle of the bladder.

The standard treatment of this form of invasive cancer is the surgical removal of the bladder, though only around half of the patients have a life expectancy of more than five years after this procedure. Up to now, no targeted therapy has proven to be effective in these tumours.


Analysis of gene expression of 383 invasive bladder tumours enabled the researchers to identify a particularly aggressive group of tumours, representing around 24 per cent of bladder invasive tumour cases. The researchers analysed the molecular changes in this group, which revealed a permanent activation of the EGFR signaling pathway which controls cell proliferation. This signaling pathway, therefore, constitutes a promising therapeutic target.

The gene expression profile of the tumours was found to be very similar to an aggressive form of breast cancer called basal-like breast cancer. The identification of a preclinical model of basal-like bladder cancers enabled the researchers to test the efficacy of an anti-EGFR drug, which resulted in a significant reduction in tumour progression. The researchers have also found biomarkers that will allow patients to be identified who might benefit from this treatment.


The multidisciplinary study, led by Dr François Radvanyi of the Institut Curie and Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France, involved biologists, bioinformaticians, statisticians, pathologists and clinicians.

Professor Southgate, Director of the Jack Birch Unit for Molecular Carcinogenesis in our Department of Biology, said: "This research represents a true hope for treatment of this aggressive group of bladder invasive cancers for which there are very limited therapeutic options.  We work closely with the French group and our research in York was important in highlighting the EGFR pathway in this tumour group."

The research, published in Science Translational Medicine, was funded by La Ligue Contre le Cancer under its "Tumour identity cards" (CIT) programme.  Professor Southgate is funded by York Against Cancer who part supports the research programme of the Jack Birch Unit for Molecular Carcinogenesis in our Department of Biology.

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This research represents a true hope for treatment of this aggressive group of bladder invasive cancers for which there are very limited therapeutic options.”

Professor Jenny Southgate
Director of the Jack Birch Unit of Molecular Carcinogenesis / Department of Biology
Featured researcher

Jenny Southgate

Professor of Molecular Carcinogenesis

Her areas of expertise include: cancer and other diseases of the urinary bladder, tissue engineering
and urothelial cell biology and human epithelial cell and tissue culture systems.

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