Academy of Medical Sciences honours eight Oxford researchers

Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Members Prof Tim Maughan and Prof Gil McVean are among the eight medical researchers at Oxford University who have been elected as Fellows of the Academy of Medical Sciences. The honour recognises outstanding contribution to the advancement of medical science, innovative application of scientific knowledge, or conspicuous service to healthcare.

Professor Sir Robert Lechler PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences said: ‘These new Fellows represent the amazing diversity of talent and expertise among the UK medical research community. Through their election to the Fellowship, we recognise the outstanding contributions these individuals have made to the progress of medical science and the development of better healthcare.

‘We work with our Fellowship to create the essential connections between academia, industry and the NHS and beyond, to strengthen biomedical research and facilitate its translation into benefits for society.’

The eight Oxford researchers elected are:

  • Professor Timothy Maughan is Professor of Clinical Oncology and Deputy Director of the CRUK/MRC Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology and the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Networking Lead. His research interests focus on the treatment of patients with colorectal cancer and he is involved in clinical trial design and execution in gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Professor Gilean McVean is Professor of Statistical Genetics, Head of Bioinformatics and Statistical Genetics and Director of the Big Data Institute at Oxford University. His research covers several areas in the analysis of genetic variation, combining the development of methods for analysing high throughput sequencing data, theoretical work and empirical analysis.
  • Professor Christopher Butler is Professor of Primary Care and Clinical Director of the University of Oxford Primary Care Clinical Trials Unit at Oxford University. His research focuses on common infections (especially the appropriate use of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance), and health behaviour change.
  • Professor Georg Holländer is Hoffmann and Action Professor of Paediatrics and Head of the Department of Paediatrics at Oxford University. His research is interested in the development and function of the immune system in health and disease.
  • Professor Sarah Lamb is Kadoorie Professor of Trauma Rehabilitation and Co-Director of the Oxford Clinical Trials Research Unit at Oxford University. Her research focuses on clinical trials and medical statistics, and she is Chief Investigator for a number of trials of rehabilitation interventions.
  • Professor Martin Maiden is Professor of Molecular Epidemiology at Oxford University. His research studies the population biology and evolution of bacterial pathogens, with the objective of translating the insights obtained into benefits for human health.
  • Professor Andrew Pollard is Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group and Honorary Consultant Paediatrician at Oxford University. His research interests focus on Current research activities include clinical trials of new and improved vaccines for children, invasive bacterial diseases in children in Nepal, studies of cellular and humoral immune responses to glycoconjugate vaccines, and development of a serogroup B meningococcal vaccine.
  • Professor Elizabeth Robertson is Professor of Developmental Biology and Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow at Oxford University. Her research exploits mouse genetics to investigate the key signalling cues and transcriptional regulators governing cell fate decisions in the developing mammalian embryo.

The new Fellows will be formally admitted to the Academy at a ceremony on the 29th June 2016.

Oxford team shortlisted for Cancer Research UK’s Grand Challenge award

A multi-disciplinary team of scientists led by Oxford University has been shortlisted along with eight other groups, to the final stages of Cancer Research UK’s global Grand Challenge – an ambitious series of £20m cancer grants tackling some of the toughest questions in cancer research.

Led by the University of Oxford’s Professor Freddie Hamdy, and including researchers from three different countries, the team plans to distinguish between a lethal prostate cancer and one that doesn’t need treatment. They will combine detailed molecular analysis of existing samples with novel lines of investigation in new patient groups – aiming to understand what biological features are present at the earliest point when cancer spreads or becomes resistant to treatment.

The overall goal is to reduce unnecessary treatment of ‘safe’ cancers, and ensure rapid and thorough treatment of those likely to be lethal. The team hope to develop and test a ‘molecular checklist’ of features that will make this a reality.

The team will now receive seed-funding to draft their full research proposal, and the winning proposal will be announced in autumn 2016.

The Grand Challenge award aims to revolutionise how we diagnose, prevent and treat cancer by uniting teams of the best scientists around the world to come up with answers to crucial questions about how to save more lives from cancer.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: “The calibre of applications for our Grand Challenge is evidence of the remarkable global talent working in cancer research. It’s inspiring to see scientists of all disciplines and nations unite in the fight against the disease.”

Dr Rick Klausner, chair of the Grand Challenge advisory panel, said: “With so many exceptional teams proposing novel approaches, it was no easy task to pick our shortlist, but we’re delighted with the teams we’ve selected and look forward to hearing more about their plans to beat the toughest questions in cancer. At least one of these teams will be awarded the first ever Grand Challenge award later this year.

Oxford University’s Professor Freddie Hamdy said: “Prostate cancer is one of the most common, but also most controversial cancers to manage. We are now set to answer the most difficult question of all: How can we recognise aggressive disease as early as possible, in order to treat the right patient, at the right time, with the right treatment option? With the exciting world-leading team we have put together, and unprecedented material from thousands of generous patients, we will rise to this challenge put to us by Cancer Research UK.”

Pioneering Oxford surgery technique could improve treatment for prostate cancer

Technology developed in Oxford to make tumour cells fluorescent could improve surgery outcomes for men with prostate cancer. From this Autumn, the method will be offered to patients as part of a trial at the Churchill Hospital run jointly by Oxford University and Oxford University Hospitals Trust and supported by Cancer Research UK.

Fluorescent compounds show up diseased cells during keyhole operations, allowing surgeons to be more precise when removing the prostate and tissue around it. Freddie Hamdy, the Nuffield Professor of Surgery and Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Member, said this meant doctors could avoid taking away too much tissue, or too little.

He said: “The keyhole surgery programme is doing very well, but when we look inside we cannot always see the cancer. We see the prostate and most of the structure but the cancer is not often visible to the naked eye. If we take too much then it can have an adverse impact on continence and sexual function. If we do not take enough we leave cancer cells behind. So we need to create a new eye for the surgeons.”

The new technique combines the fluorescent compound with new camera technology developed by Boris Vojnovic, of the university’s Department of Oncology. The compound illuminates cancer cells, so the surgeon can use the camera to see exactly what needs to be removed.

Prof Hamdy added: “This means when we do the surgical procedure we can take exactly the right amount of tissue and try and guarantee a good outcome.”

Each year about about 40,000 men in the UK are diagnosed with a prostate tumour, the most common cancer in men. Treating prostate cancer in its early stages can be beneficial in some cases, but the side effects of the various treatments are also potentially serious. Prof Hamdy said: “You could over-treat someone even though he may have gone through life without seeing any of the effects.”

A major trial, called ProtecT (Prostate testing for cancer and Treatment) and funded by the National Institute for Health Research, has been completed to try and help reduce over-treatment. It has been running in nine centres of the UK since 1999, with Oxford University acting as a sponsor, and has involved more than 80,000 men – making it the largest study of its kind. The study is due to report back in the coming months. A separate trial, PART (Partial prostate Ablation versus Radical prosTatectomy), is also looking at focal therapy. Because treatments for prostate cancer can have a range of side effects, scientists also want to develop new methods that reduce the burden on patients but still control the cancer. PART is comparing the effects of removing the whole prostate with those of partial destruction using high-intensity focused ultrasound.

This article originally appeared in the Oxford Mail, and can be viewed online here

Giant touchscreen helping in the battle against cancer

A giant touchscreen computer for junior doctors and medical students to study tumours in fine detail is the latest weapon in the battle against cancer for Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre has funded the 55-inch wide screen for the teaching of histopathology speciality trainees and medical students from the University of Oxford and the 500 researchers and clinicians that make up the Oxford Centre.

It allows users to “pinch and pull images” to identify the features of tumours that could predict their prognosis.

Until now, junior doctors and medical students have had to use microscopes linked to other microscopes used by teachers.

With the new technology, users can manipulate images – which are sent to the hospital pathology department – by zooming in and out and moving and rotating the images.

It is hoped the technology will improve the teaching of junior doctors and medical students so they can provide the best possible cancer diagnosis to patients.

The £25,780 computer has been funded by the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre and draws on more than 400 scanned images from Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust patients.

The first session took place on February 23 for urological pathology to prepare histopathology registrars for upcoming fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists’ exams.

Dr Clare Verrill, Senior University Lecturer in Pathology, who taught the first session: “Having this digital screen, enables a new and exciting way of teaching where learners and teachers are able to interact with the images and makes for stimulating and interesting discussions .

With an increasing trend for use of digital pathology images for routine diagnostics as well as research, histopathology registrars will be better equipped for modern pathology practice.

Histopathology speciality trainee Dr Andrew Smith said: “Histopathology training is driven by practical experience – you have to look at a lot of cases to learn how to recognise tumours for what they are.

“Having access to cases digitally and in high resolution means you can learn from a case even when the slides for that case are not available in the department.

“I think using interactive technology in this way also makes the subject more accessible. Hopefully it will inspire more medical students and junior doctors to pursue a career in histopathology.”

Dr Claire Bloomfield, Strategic Planning Lead at the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre, said: “Supporting our future leaders in cancer diagnostic is a key aim for the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre.

“Effective, detailed diagnosis is a key foundation in our vision of making cancer therapies more targeted to individual patients.”

Dr Áine McCarthy, Cancer Research UK’s science information officer, said: “This technology offers a unique way for junior doctors and medical students to study the art of histopathology, a hugely important area of medicine.

“By using state of the art technology, we’re offering these doctors and students better training which will benefit both them and patients in the future.”

If you’re an Oxford Centre member interested in using this resource, please email


The future of cancer treatment

1 in 3 people born after 1960 in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime, and each year, 4th February marked World Cancer Day, to raise awareness and encourage individuals and governments to fight the disease.

The Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre has many research groups working at the cutting edge of the fight against cancer, and Charvy Narain of Oxford Science Blog spoke to one such researcher, Professor Colin Goding from Ludwig Cancer Research at the Nuffield Department of Medicine, about what cancer treatments might look like in the future.


Oxford Science Blog: Why is cancer of interest to scientists?

Colin Goding: We have something like 14 million million cells in our body, but only one in three of us, and over many years, gets cancer (defined by the uncontrolled division of cells which grow to form tumour). At the cellular level, cancer is extremely rare, and this is because we have mechanisms that block mutated cells progressing towards disease.

We study these mechanisms in melanomas, which are cancers that begin in melanocytes – the cells the produce the pigment melanin, which colours skin, hair and eyes. So melanomas are usually (but not always) skin cancers.

Melanoma are a good ‘model’ for cancer because we can see all stages of the disease: completely normal pigment cells, but also moles that have an activated cancer-causing gene that puts its foot on the ‘accelerator’ pushing cells to divide, counterbalanced by a very strong anti-cancer mechanism (present in all cells) that cuts the fuel to the engine so cells stop dividing.

We can also see melanomas that progress to spread across the surface of the skin, or those that start to invade and spread to other parts of the body. We’re particularly interested in how these state changes happen.

OSB: Given the rarity of the cellular events that lead to cancer, how does it ever take hold?

CG: It is a complicated process, but to get a cancer, you need to inactivate the ‘brake’ that stops uncontrolled cell division, and there is more than one cellular braking system. On top of this, the genes encoding the ‘accelerator’ for cell division have to be turned on.

If these mutations occur in the wrong order, the engine stalls: there is no cancer. To get cancer, the mutations need to happen in the correct order: you lose the ‘brakes’, the cell machinery gets put in gear, and then the ‘accelerator’ mutations happen.  Only then will the cancer progress.

OSB: Why are you particularly interested in melanomas?

CG: The advantage of studying melanomas is that, as a skin cancer, we can see all of these disease stages – in lung cancer, for example, by the time a patient comes in with symptoms, the cancer has usually already moved to quite a late stage.

Another advantage of studying melanomas is that we understand a lot about the genetics of pigment cells, and many of the genes that have gone wrong in melanoma are the ones involved in the normal development of pigment cells. So we have a pretty good understanding of the genetic basis of this form of cancer: we know that the ‘accelerator’ genes are, for example, and we understand the braking mechanisms too.

Melanoma is also a form of cancer that affects many people: there are over 13,000 new cases of melanoma every year. The measure that correlates best with disease rates is childhood sunburn and cases of melanoma have been doubling every 10 years for the last 40 years. This is partially because there is about a 30 year lag between people becoming aware of the dangers of UV exposure from the sun and a change in disease rates.

And it is still the case that if you go to a park on a hot sunny day, or the beach, there are still people who are getting burnt. So there is still work to do in educating the public about the dangers of excessive sun exposure.

OSB: How has the treatment for melanoma changed over these decades?

CG: For 50 years, there was very little progress in treatments for melanoma: surgery to cut out early lesions before they started to spread is still a very effective therapy, but that was pretty much it.

But the realization that certain genes act as the accelerator pedal to push melanoma formation has led to drugs that target this mechanism. We now know which cancer gene responds to which particular drug. The response in patients whose cancer stems from these sorts of mutations is very good, but if the patient does not have the specific gene targeted by that drug, treatment with that drug might actually make things worse. So patients are now increasingly being tested for particular mutations before being treated with specific drugs.

The real problem, however, is that even if a drug works, for most patients, it is almost inevitable that resistance to that drug also appears some months later: the drug stops working, and the cancer carries on growing and spreading, eventually killing the patient.

A huge amount of work over the last 50 years or so has also gone into  understanding the mechanisms cells use to block immune cells from infiltrating and attacking a developing tumour. Many of these mechanisms have now been identified, and the consequence is that there are now new drugs in the clinic that will help reactivate the immune system, enabling it to attack the cancer.

These drugs have also been very effective in many patients, but again, not all patients respond, there are many side-effects, and in some cases, resistance sets in after a while.

Essentially, resistance seems almost unavoidable for any one single kind of drug.

OSB: What can be done to combat this resistance?

CG: The first mechanism for cancer drug resistance is genetic:  unless the disease is at a very early stage, within all the cancer cells in a patient’s body there is likely to be at least one that has another mutation that confers resistance to a particular drug or therapy. So when that drug is used, all of the other cells die, but the one with the mutation survives – and it then repopulates the tumour. This turns out to be quite a common mechanism for resistance to so-called targeted therapies that hit a key molecule.

The only way to really deal with this mechanism of resistance is to treat the patient early, and when the treatment is successful, to monitor the patient very carefully, with tools that are more sensitive that those we currently have, to track the cancer coming back.

This is because it’s a numbers game for genetic resistance – the chances of resistance developing are proportional to the number of cancer cells in the body. The greater the number of these cells, the greater the likelihood that some cells will be resistant to the drug being used. So even if you have a second drug that can kill cancer cells that survive the first drug, giving the second drug at a later stage, when there are many more cancer cells, means that it is again almost inevitable that a few cells will be resistant to the second drug too.

So treating as early as possible, when there are as few cancer cells in the body as possible, is the best way of overcoming genetic resistance.

OSB: How does your own work approach these treatment failures?

CG: We work on the second mechanism for cancer resistance, one based on the cancer cells in a tumour adopting different states.

We and others have found that in different circumstances, cancer cells can adopt different ‘personalities’ that can be more or less resistant to a particular treatment. The adoption of these different states is influenced by the microenvironment surrounding each cell, which includes factors like oxygen or nutrient levels, or signals from infiltrating immune cells.

All of these factors combine to induce the tumour cells to adopt different states. One of these states might be a drug-resistant state, another might be an invasive state, where cells start to move away from the primary tumour and spread throughout the body to form metastases.

For example, we now know, from the work that we’ve done on melanomas, that movement away from the primary tumour to seed these metastasis is primarily driven by the cancer cells’ microenvironment.

The interesting thing is that the cancer cell states are dynamic and reversible, and these micro-environmental influences can potentially be modulated by drugs. This isn’t quite the case for the genetic mutations, which are pretty much irreversible – you can target the altered protein made by the mutation, or you can try and kill the mutated cells when their numbers are low, but that’s the only way you can deal with the genetic issue in cancer.

But by understanding cancer cell states, we can perhaps turn a drug-resistant population of cells to a drug-sensitive one.

OSB: How could you bring about this change in state?

CG: We could do this by changing the micro-environment, or by finding drugs that drive cells to adopt a particular state. We’ve done this quite successfully for a drug called methotrexate – this was already in use for psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, but we found out a couple of years ago that this drug switches on one of the genes that stops melanoma cells spreading to other parts of the body. Working in collaboration with another group, we also found that methotrexate also sensitized cancer cells to another drug, and so we’re currently working on ways to drive cancer cells into states responsive to different drugs.

We think many drugs designed for other diseases and not currently used to treat cancer might turn out to be useful for targeting some of these mechanisms which can switch cancer cells from one state to another.

OSB: How do you think cancer therapies need to change in the future?

CG: Cancer therapies need two things: first, we need to identify relapse (the cancer coming back) way ahead of when we do now, so that drugs that can bypass resistance to the first therapy can be given before resistance to the second therapy arises. This is similar to what we already do for bacterial infections: we don’t use the same antibiotic again when a first dose leaves resistant bacteria, and we ideally give a second antibiotic before the infection becomes re-established.

The second approach needs us to really understand the mechanisms by which cancer cells adopt inter-convertible states with different drug sensitivities. Then, we can use drug combinations, so that drug A sensitizes a tumour to drug B.  We need to be really clever about how to do this and get the timing right. This requires quite a lot of work to understand fully the processes involved, but we’re getting there!


Read more about world-leading Oxford science on the Oxford Science Blog here

Oxford researcher secures funding for powerful imaging technique in pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF) is funding six new research projects with a total of £1 million – bringing the charity’s support for research into the UK’s most lethal cancer to over £8 million. This is the third year that PCRF has invested £1 million in a single funding round. In total, the charity has funded 40 cutting edge research projects across the UK and Ireland, worth over £6 million.

Oxford researcher Dr Bart Cornelissen will be leading one of the six newly funded projects. Dr Cornelissen aims to use powerful imaging techniques to diagnose early stage pancreatic cancer. His team has already developed an imaging agent that attaches to a protein known as claudin-4 which is expressed in the early stages of the disease. This project will develop the agent so that this protein can be rapidly detected and monitored using PET scanners, which are increasingly common in hospitals. Dr Cornelissen is part of the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre Pancreatic Cancer working group, and the early stages of this project were supported by an Oxford Centre Development Fund award.

Projects at Imperial College London, University of Liverpool, Swansea University, Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute and Queen Mary University of London, will also receive funding.

These new grants are in addition to the £2 million committed to the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund Tissue Bank, which launched in January 2016 and will accelerate research progress. The Tissue Bank is the world’s first nationally co-ordinated pancreas tissue bank and has already been hailed as “one of the most important developments in resourcing UK pancreatic cancer research in a generation”.

Says PCRF’s founder and CEO, Maggie Blanks: “In the charity’s early years, we had to focus on basic research to help understand pancreatic cancer and its mechanisms, with the knowledge that this would be a springboard for future research progress. More recently – typified by this year’s grants – we’ve been able to focus on projects that are closer to patients. These include innovative ways of making current treatments much more effective, developing ‘personalised medicine’ approaches and finding ways to diagnose the disease in its earliest stages.

“We’re committed to beating this disease and thanks to our loyal supporters whose fundraising enables us to fund all these projects and initiatives, we’re making real progress towards this goal.”

Oxford charities come together for World Cancer Day

The Lord Mayor of Oxford is joining forces with a cancer patient, who received life-saving treatment in Oxford’s Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit, to unite the community on World Cancer Day.

Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre and Oxford City Council are being supported by five local charities – Macmillan, Sue Ryder, International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research, Cochrane and the Oxfordshire Prostate Cancer Support Group – to help raise money and awareness, and represent cancer patients in Oxford on February 4.

They include Susan Cakebread, who was told she may have only eighteen months to live after being diagnosed with cancer, but is now free from signs of the disease after taking a trial drug for almost three years.

Susan, who will celebrate her 69th birthday on World Cancer Day, received her pioneering treatment at the Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit at the city’s Churchill Hospital which aims to discover new treatments for the future.

The Lord Mayor, Councillor Rae Humberstone, will host a programme of events which start with doctors, scientists and patients joining members of the public in Bonn Square to form a human chain to mark the day.

They will wear Unity Bands™ to show their support for Susan and others affected by cancer. The Unity Bands – made of two parts and knotted together to symbolise the power of what can be achieved when people come together – will be available for a suggested £2 donation on the day. The charities hope people in Oxford will pick up a Unity Band and wear it with pride on February 4.

Experts will later be on hand in the Town Hall to share the most up to date research in Oxford where Cancer Research UK spends around £22 million every year. Representatives from local charities will give short talks about their work and throughout the day there will be several lab tours at the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre.

World Cancer Day celebrations will culminate with a Gala Concert in the evening.

The Lord Mayor said: “Along with doctors, health workers and representatives of the many cancer charities, I am helping to launch Oxford’s contribution to World Cancer Day. Many of us have had, or will have, a more than passing acquaintance with cancer. “It may be through a family connection, a friend or work colleague, or a personal experience of “The Big C”. My wife successfully fought breast cancer in 2006 and I had a brush with skin cancer in 2012.

“Highlighting cancer awareness is as important as welcoming new forms of treatment, if we are to finally beat this terrible disease. Therefore, I hope people in Oxford will do their bit to promote that awareness and also show support for those who are, in many different ways, currently affected by cancer. Whether by making a £2 donation for a Unity Band or joining the human chain in Bonn Square, all support is most welcome. Thank you”.

Tara Clarke, Research Engagement Manager in Oxford who organised the event, said: “World Cancer Day is a unique opportunity for people in our region and beyond, to unite for one day and show that together we can do something about cancer. So many of us have been affected by the disease, which is why on February 4 we are calling on the people of Oxford to join together and wear their Unity Band with pride. Success stories like Susan’s would not be possible without the commitment of our amazing supporters, who fund each charity’s individual work into the prevention, detection, treatment and support of those with cancer.

“So whatever the motivation – to remember a loved one, celebrate people who have overcome the disease, or to rally in support of those going through treatment – World Cancer Day is a chance to get involved and help reduce the impact of cancer on future generations.”

This year for the first time, three leading national cancer charities – Breast Cancer Care, Anthony Nolan and the Movember Foundation – have joined forces with Cancer Research UK to galvanise the whole nation to support World Cancer Day and help transform the lives of millions of people affected by cancer.

Each charity has Unity Bands available in their own colours and all money raised from the Unity Bands will go towards the charities’ individual research projects and support services.

Money raised will fund breakthroughs in scientific research; save and improve the lives of people with blood cancers; provide high quality care, support and information for people with breast cancer, and fund research and support services to tackle prostate and testicular cancer.

For more information on the partnership and to get a Unity Band, go to

Early signs of success for pioneering treatment at Oxford Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit

An Oxford cancer patient who was told she may have only eighteen months to live is free from signs of the disease after taking a trial drug for almost three years. Susan Cakebread received her pioneering treatment at the Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital which aims to discover new treatments for the future.

Now Susan will be a special guest at World Cancer Day celebrations in Oxford on the 4th February – her 69th birthday – when the Lord Mayor will launch a programme of events to unite the city. Doctors, scientists and patients will join members of the public in Bonn Square to form a human chain to mark World Cancer Day. They want others to wear Unity Bands to show their support for Susan and others affected by cancer.

The mother of two was first diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2008 after finding a spot on her head which became bigger and harder over a few weeks. Although the news hit her hard she vowed to stay positive and strong for her husband, Brian, 72, and family. The couple have a son, Andrew, 42, and a daughter, Nikki, 40, who with her husband Enton has a home in Oxford.

Susan was treated with surgery and had a skin graft before attending regular check-ups for the next three and a half years. During a holiday in Dorset in 2012 she became unwell with kidney stones and was admitted to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading where an X-ray for her condition also showed up abnormal spots in her lungs. Further tests confirmed her cancer had come back and spread to both lungs.

Susan, who lives near Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, was offered the option of joining a clinical trial in Oxford by her consultant.

She said: “Having been told I would probably only live for about eighteen months without treatment it was a no brainer. I wanted a chance to live”

She was one of the first patients enrolled in the trial testing a new type of immunotherapy and started a regime of weekly trips to Oxford for treatment, tests and results.

The team at the Early Phase Clinical Trials Unit treat on average 18 patients a day, testing new drugs and therapies in patients as well as new combinations of existing treatments. Many of the patients have advanced cancer and are no longer benefiting from standard cancer treatment.

“I was really nervous but the staff and general atmosphere was so friendly and relaxed. I also found their honesty reassuring. They told me the trial was new and there were no guarantees it would work. To begin with the side effects were pretty awful and the research nurses spent hours monitoring me. I had a rash and pink eyes but gradually the side-effects settled down and I was able to go home soon after each treatment. Because I was doing well – not everybody does – I was kept on the trial and by 2014 the tumour in my left lung had disappeared on scans and the other had shrunk by a third”.

A few weeks ago the remainder of the tumour in her right lung was removed in a six hour operation and subsequent tests have indicated Susan is clear of any signs of cancer in both lungs.

“When I was given the results I had a few tears. I have been very lucky. I didn’t even find the treatment that hard to cope with. I believe I am the longest survivor on this trial drug”.

She has now been able to stop the treatment and will only return to the clinic for regular three-monthly check-ups although she hopes that will be extended if all goes well.

“I will miss going to the unit every week. I have been bowled over by their friendliness and professionalism. They encouraged me to look ahead and stay positive. I never wanted friends and family to see me and think about the ‘Big C’. I believe it was best to get it out in the open so that everyone knew and could talk about it openly”.

Her husband, Brian, added: “The doctors spotting the lung tumours in the X-ray Susan had for the kidney stones could have saved her life. Although she had no symptoms, the melanoma had spread to her lungs and there was little else doctors could offer her. But thanks to the clinical trial and this new drug, we could have years together.”





Susan and Brian are highlighting the Unity Bands as leading cancer charities – Cancer Research UK, Breast Cancer Care, Anthony Nolan and the Movember Foundation – join forces for World Cancer Day. There will be a range of events held in Oxford for World Cancer Day, to find out more click here.

The four charities uniting for World Cancer Day touch the lives of millions of people every year through the prevention, detection, treatment and support of those affected by cancer.

Helen Johnstone, for Cancer Research UK, said: “So many of us have been affected by the disease, which is why on February 4 we want people to wear their Unity Band with pride. Success stories like Susan’s would not be possible without the commitment of our amazing supporters. Wearing a Unity Band is a simple way to show support and a small action taken by many people really can make a huge difference.”

The Unity Bands are available from each charity in their own colours at for a suggested donation of £2. All money raised from the Unity Bands will go towards the charities’ individual research projects and support services


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Oxford role in world’s first national tissue bank for pancreatic cancer

Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is to provide samples for the world’s first national tissue bank for pancreatic cancer.

The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund Tissue Bank brings together surgeons, pathologists, oncologists, researchers and database experts to co-ordinate a national – and ultimately international – resource that will help to develop new treatments and bring these to patients much faster.

The new facility, based at Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), will store tissue donated by consenting patients with diseases of the pancreas undergoing biopsy or surgery at partner hospitals in five cities initially: London, Southampton, Oxford, Leicester and Swansea. All samples will be anonymised before being banked.

The partners will act as Tissue Bank collection centres, adding samples of tissue, blood, urine and saliva from around 1,000 new patients each year.

About 8,800 people in the UK are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year.  It’s known as the UK’s deadliest cancer, with a survival rate of just 3 per cent, a figure that has barely improved in 40 years.

New treatments are desperately needed. Surgery to remove the tumour offers the best chance of survival but most patients are diagnosed when the cancer has already spread to other organs. Without surgery, the average survival time from diagnosis is 6 months.

The Tissue Bank is being funded with £2m from the UK research charity, Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund (PCRF).

Each donation will be logged with detailed medical and, where possible, genetic information so that researchers can request exactly the right type of sample for their research. Data generated by all research projects using Tissue Bank samples will be fed back into a bespoke database, and will be made freely available to the global research community, to inform and underpin their own research.

The development of the Tissue Bank has been driven by Professor Hemant Kocher, a pancreatic cancer researcher at Barts Cancer Institute, QMUL, and consultant pancreas and liver surgeon at The Royal London hospital, Barts Health NHS Trust.

He said:  “This is a highly ambitious venture, but one that is crucial to enabling researchers to investigate new treatments for this most lethal cancer. At the moment, we can help only a small proportion of patients with surgery. For the majority of those diagnosed, and for those who see their cancer return even after surgery, there’s very little else we can offer.  

“The Tissue Bank will also help us to tackle this disease with earlier diagnosis. Many proteins associated with pancreatic cancer are also found in blood, urine and saliva, so having these materials from patients alongside the tissue samples helps us to find ways to diagnose the disease at an earlier, curative stage.”

The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund Founder and CEO, Maggie Blanks, said:  “Researchers told us that progress was being held back by the scarcity of high-quality tissue samples on which they can test their ideas and validate their research. For research results to be more meaningful, the samples must be collected, handled and stored consistently, following strict procedures. 

“A nationally co-ordinated tissue bank will not only ensure that more samples become available to researchers, but that these are quality controlled to provide a much better basis for the very best research to be carried out. It’s a huge commitment for the charity, but thanks to the generosity of our supporters we’ve been able to make it happen.” 

UK life sciences minister says Oxfordshire ‘doing something special’

Starting at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Mr Freeman met Oxford University’s Regius Professor of Medicine Sir John Bell, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Chair Dame Fiona Caldicott and Director of Clinical Services Paul Brennan, city council leader Bob Price and Local Enterprise Partnership Chief Executive Nigel Tipple, to discuss economic growth plans for the area and new approaches to integrated health care in the county.

He was then briefed on the work of the National Institute for Health Research Oxford Biomedical Research Centre and the Oxford Genomic Medicine Centre.

At the University of Oxford’s Old Road Campus, Mr Freeman was briefed on the latest buildings being developed at the site, including the Big Data Institute, which will allow researchers to analyse millions of records to shed light on many health conditions, and the Bioescalator, which will support new and developing life science businesses, before finding out more about research at the University, one of Europe’s largest centres for biomedical research.

While admitting an allegiance to traditional rival Cambridge, George Freeman expressed his pride at the work being done in Oxfordshire. He said:

‘The Oxford Biomedical Campus is fast becoming a world class hub of the new technology and biomedical disciplines which are transforming twenty-first century medicine. Through government and local funding, the Oxford team are building a truly integrated campus with NHS, university and industry researchers pioneering the genomic, informatic and diagnostic breakthroughs which are making Precision Medicine a reality for NHS patients. With companies like Adaptimmune and Immunocore here in the cluster, I am very proud as the UK’s first minister for life sciences (and a Cambridge man) to note that Oxfordshire is doing something special.’