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New cancer centre launched in Northern Ireland

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by Cancer Research UK | News

24 March 2009

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Belfast today (Tuesday) joins a unique chain of Cancer Research UK Centres that are being launched across the UK.

These cancer centres will draw together world class research and areas of medical expertise to provide the best possible results for cancer patients nationwide.

As one of the first centres, the Belfast Cancer Research UK Centre will help set the pace for national and international progress in cancer of the bowel cancer, oesophagus and breast cancer. It will also concentrate on pioneering the latest techniques in radiotherapy, improving cancer diagnosis and developing new, more effective drugs.

Collaboration is the key to the success of the Centre which will focus on identifying new targets for cancer drugs, understanding how genes can help predict which treatment will be most effective and developing specific new treatments that have fewer side effects.

Cancer Research UK already supports research in Northern Ireland but is looking to increase its contribution up to £2.5m a year to help develop the Centre.

Professor Patrick Johnston, Dean of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences and Chair of the board of the new centre, said: “This is a very exciting development for cancer care and cancer research in Northern Ireland. It will add greatly to the options available for cancer patients and is recognition of the quality of cancer care and cancer research already taking place at Queen’s University Belfast and the Belfast Trust.”

The Centre aims to be a world leader in developing treatments tailored to individual cancer patients based on understanding the biology of the disease and how that varies among patients. It brings together the researchers and support from Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland’s Health & Social Care Research & Development Office, Cancer Research UK and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

Allister Murphy, 52, has first hand experience of taking part in cancer research after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in February 2008. Following a routine visit to his GP a biopsy, MRI and bone scan confirmed that the cancer had spread to his spine, ribs and pelvis. Hormone treatment was recommended.

Allister was offered the opportunity to take part in a clinical trial that was researching an improved, more tailored treatment for advanced prostate cancer. His doctor will be involved in research at the new centre.

“Taking part in this clinical trial means that while my present medication is working, Dr. O’Sullivan and his team are investigating whether a combination of drugs in addition to hormone treatment would be more effective,” said Allister, “and this gives hope for the future – not just for me, but others.”

Allister – an IT consultant – is very proud of the fact that he has had no days off work in the last 34 years and that he has been able to maintain a very positive attitude to his illness. Although still receiving treatment Allister is living life to the full and is currently in training for the Belfast Marathon.

Professor Dennis McCance, who is director of the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University and on the Centre’s board, said: “This exciting new initiative will bolster our efforts to bring together a variety of researchers and clinicians to collaborate and work together to improve the lives of cancer patients across Northern Ireland. By building closer links between scientists and doctors we want to increase the pace of research, leading to improved treatments for patients.”

“Northern Ireland is the third link in this exciting chain of cancer centres. We should rightly be proud of the part we’re playing in moving the latest scientific discoveries from the laboratory to the patient’s bedside. We’ll be focusing our efforts on better diagnosis and developing new personalised treatments for patients which will include better and more effective drugs and improving radiotherapy.”

Professor Bernie Hannigan, Director of Research and Development for Health & Social Care, Northern Ireland said: “Cancer research must be of the highest quality if it is to lead to better diagnosis, treatment and care of patients and to the prevention of cancer. Quality is achieved only when very costly resources are available to excellent clinicians and researchers.

“As a significant, long-term funder of cancer research in Belfast we are delighted with the establishment of the Cancer Research UK Centre. We look forward to great achievements as we work together for the benefit of Northern Ireland’s people.”

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “Funding these centres of excellence is one of the charity’s priorities and will enable us to work towards the goals we have set to improve the treatment and survival of cancer patients. But we continue to welcome the generous donations we receive from the public to ensure we can continue to build on what we have started today.”

Cancer Research UK plans to launch more centres around the UK during 2009.


For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.