Meet the Researcher – Dr Huw Morgan14 March 2023
Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world with thousands of new cases diagnosed every year. Dr Huw Morgan (BSc 2012, PhD 2018) is looking at how stem cells behave around cancer cells, with the aim of developing simpler, and less invasive treatments for skin cancer.
My interest has always been in cancer biology. I completed all my studies at Cardiff, right up to my PhD at Cardiff’s European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute, where I work now. We look at resistance to cancer treatments and how to prevent cancer from coming back.
My research focuses on basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common of the three major types of skin cancer. Whilst BCC metastasises far less readily than melanoma, meaning it can usually be removed by a quick surgical procedure, the incredibly high incidence means that treatment for BCC currently takes up a great deal of clinicians’ time. So there is an unmet need to develop drug-based therapy for BCC.
We are looking at stem cells: cells which don’t just split into identical copies, but into cells with different functions. In patients with BCC, stem cells give off a protein that sticks to immune cells and stops them from attacking cancer, helping a tumour to grow. So we are working to develop a treatment that targets the stem cells and this interaction.
We have seen in initial experiments that this type of treatment can show success, but we need more data, to take the drug to the next stages of research. The Future Leaders in Cancer Research funding is allowing me to carry out the experiments needed to collect this data.
With further research, our hope for the future is to one day develop a topical formula that could simply be applied to the area of skin affected by BCC. This would free up clinicians to devote more time to patients needing urgent treatment. Ultimately, this could drastically cut waiting times and, hopefully, increase survival rates for other cancers due to earlier intervention. Also, stem cells involved in some other cancers (lung, kidney, brain) produce the protein we’re looking at, meaning that our research may be helpful in treating these types of cancer too.
To donors and fundraisers I’d like to say a massive thank you. You have helped me to drive my own experiments and take the next steps towards independent research.
Find out more about cancer research at Cardiff University.