Dr Ester Hammond
Dr Ester Hammond is part of the Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology at the University of Oxford, heading the Tumour Hypoxia Group. Dr Hammond and her team are searching for new ways to target oxygen-deprived areas of tumours, in order to make current treatments more effective.
Cells need oxygen to survive. That’s why tumours develop their own blood supply as they grow, keeping cells topped up with the oxygen and nutrients they need to keep growing. But in most cases the supply isn’t good enough to feed the whole tumour, leaving some parts starved of oxygen – something known as hypoxia.
To help adapt to low oxygen conditions, cancer cells often increase their molecular tools that repair DNA damage. But this also means the hypoxic parts of tumours are more resistant to DNA-damaging treatments, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy, making the tumours more difficult to treat. Dr Hammond and her team are studying the molecules that repair DNA damage in order to find new ways to tackle cancer. They are developing drugs that only work when there isn’t much oxygen around, which could lead to treatments that home in on tumours and leave healthy tissue unharmed, reducing the risk of side effects. They are also working on drugs to switch off cancer’s ability to repair DNA, making them more sensitive to treatments like chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Their research could lead to more effective and kinder treatments for cancer patients, improving survival and reducing the side effects treatments can cause.