A new fundraising campaign has been launched to establish a specialist children’s cancer research facility at Newcastle University.
The Future Fund aims to raise £5.5 million to establish the Newcastle University Centre for Childhood Cancer. It is a collaborative project between the University, the North of England Children’s Cancer Research (NECCR) charity and the Great North Children’s Hospital (GNCH) – home to one of the UK’s leading centres for paediatric oncology.
The planned research facility will provide state-of-the-art resources to enable world-leading academics and clinicians to advance and accelerate the children’s cancer research and treatment that has already earned them international recognition.
Thankfully, childhood cancer is rare. Yet it remains the main cause of non-accidental death in children from one to 15 years of age. The Future Fund aims to change these statistics by putting Newcastle at the centre of the fight against the disease.
Each year, around 1,600 children are diagnosed with cancer in the UK, and one in 700 young adults is now a survivor of childhood cancer.
Though survival rates are improving thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatment, the side effects associated with current treatments are recognised as a major problem. Many long-term cancer survivors suffer chronic health problems related to their original therapy.
Changing lives for the better
Professor Josef Vormoor, Director of the Northern Institute for Cancer Research at Newcastle University (NICR) and Honorary Consultant Paediatric Oncologist at the GNCH, said: “Childhood cancer has been one of the success stories of modern medicine. Such have been the advances made over the past 30 years that eight out of 10 children diagnosed today will be cured. However, cancer in children and young people still remains a serious challenge.
“We lack efficient therapies for some children who present with advanced stages of disease or for those whose cancer has come back. Even for survivors, the treatment can come with quite a heavy burden as two out of three survivors are left with chronic health problems associated with side effects.”
Clinical and research staff at the NICR and GNCH are working tirelessly to understand childhood cancers and to develop therapies with fewer side effects.
NICR’s vision is to tailor therapies and develop new and innovative treatments for patients – and its work has already changed thousands of young lives for the better. Key areas of expertise are childhood leukaemia, brain tumours and neuroblastoma.
Professor Vormoor, a celebrated expert in childhood cancers, passionately believes the new facilities would help his world-class researchers to make further advances by bringing together teams from sites across the city.
He said: “The time has come to create more space for our work to grow. If our researchers reach their full potential they will have an even greater impact on children’s lives.
“Fast forward five to ten years and I believe we will have completely changed the way we treat children with cancer. We have the perfect clinical environment, with teams of experts in our Oncology Units at the Great North Children’s Hospital. With equally excellent research facilities, our increasing knowledge and the drug discoveries that are being made, we will be using increasingly targeted drugs that specifically attack cancer cells and minimise the side effects. Though we clearly won’t achieve this on our own, I believe that the team in Newcastle will be key to making that step change.”
Plans for the future
The planned Newcastle University Centre for Childhood Cancer will be established in the heart of the Newcastle University campus and will help the city retain key staff and attract additional internationally recognised experts in the field.
Professor Chris Day, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Medical Sciences, at Newcastle University, said: "The NICR is already the leading centre for research into childhood cancer in the UK and it is poised to become one of the major centres for paediatric oncology research in Europe.
"Creating the advanced laboratories needed for our world-class research will enable us to build on our strong track record and achieve our goal of changing the lives of more children. With the fantastic support of our partners and the public, Newcastle University will continue to develop as a centre for research in this vital area."
Case study: Brody’s storyWhen three-year-old Brody Richardson couldn’t shake off what appeared to be a simple cold, his parents took him to the GP for what they imagined would be a very routine check.
Yet just hours later they were in the back of an ambulance being rushed to the Great North Children’ s Hospital in Newcastle and preparing to fight a battle that would change the lives of their entire family.
Brody’s susceptibility to bruising alerted the GP to the possibility of leukaemia and a blood test confirmed his parents’ worst fears. Genetic profiling revealed Brody was suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a cancer of the white blood cells, which is the most common childhood cancer.
Brody is half-way through his gruelling three years of treatment, which initially involved six months of intensive chemotherapy and is now being followed by ‘maintenance’ treatments, many of which are administered at his home in Whitley Bay.
His dad Jim said: “Luck doesn’t seem the right word to use but we were lucky in some ways that Brody’s leukaemia was ALL because it is the most common type and therefore it is the most understood and has the highest survival rates. This doesn’t detract from the fact that it is still a terrifying prospect to learn that your child has cancer but it is a comfort to know that you are benefitting from decades of research.”
Jim felt so privileged to have the strength of Newcastle’s research and clinical expertise on the side of his family that he began fundraising to support research in childhood cancers and his commitment led to his appointment as Vice Chairman of the North of England Children’s Cancer Research.
He added: “If Brody had been diagnosed with leukaemia in the 1960s he would not have had a very good chance at all of coming through it. We are benefiting from more than 50 years of fundraising and research by other people and it’s only right that we help the parents of the next generation of children suffering from cancers – especially those we don’t yet understand so well.”
How to get involved: For more information or to donate online visit the Future Fund website, or telephone 0191 208 7250. Support the fund on Facebook /futurefundnewcastle, on Twitter @FutureFundNCL and use the hashtag #NCLFF
published on: 28 June 2014