Professor Laura Machesky
We’re in the final week of our partnership with Absolute Radio and Magic to share the stories of those living with cancer or researching the disease right now. Garry, a radio producer, is travelling the country for us, and he has shared what he found in a weekly blog diary. Read about his final round of visits, including trips to Fife, Glasgow, Cardiff and Bristol.
I’m on the last lap of my journey around the country for Cancer Research UK, and while I feel I’ve learned a lot, I’m also seeing how much more there is to discover.
In a small village near Kirkcaldy in Fife, I met 6 year old Milo, his dad Kevin, and his mum Sarah.
About 3 ½ years ago, Milo was diagnosed with Wilms’ tumour, a type of kidney cancer. In Milo’s case it had also spread to his lungs and liver. And since then, he’s had chemotherapy, radiotherapy and had one kidney removed.
Recently he’s also had the other kidney removed because of the risk the cancer might come back, so now Milo is receiving dialysis three times a week.
Milo and his parents told me about their visits to Glasgow for dialysis. To pass the time he plays Minecraft on his iPad, and was especially pleased that today he was allowed to bring in a treat to have while he was “attached to the machine”.
One thing that impressed me was how cool Milo was with everything he was going through, and that his parents involved him in decisions – such as having a feeding tube fitted. And, despite it all, he was still a cheeky 6 year old.
“One of the things Milo finds hardest about it is that he misses school,” Kevin told me.
To which Milo replied: “No I don’t!”
I was really impressed with how Milo’s positive attitude is helping the family cope with the challenges they face. This means they could also move on with making positive family memories, and balancing trips to Legoland with making sure they were prepared for a sudden change in Milo’s condition.
Listen to Milo and his family talking about their experience:
At the Beatson Institute in Glasgow I met Professor Laura Machesky, who is researching how cancer cells move and cause the disease to spread to other areas of the body.
The freedom to have new ideas, she told me, was one of the things she valued the most about the role.
“I can come into work every day and it’s a new chance to think,” she told me. And each day her team is looking for new ways that “might change the way we think about how cells work and how they spread”.
This early-stage scientific research is important for laying the groundwork that could lead to new therapies. And many of the new therapies we are seeing at the moment are based on the solid foundations of this type of basic science.
Laura told me that it was important to keep focused on this end goal, and this was helped by meeting patients at events, such as those run by Cancer Research UK.
Listen to Laura talking about her work:
At the Cancer Research UK Imperial Centre in West London, I met Dr Simona Parrinello, whose team is researching the spread of glioblastoma, the most common and difficult to treat form of brain cancer in adults.
One of the reasons why therapy fails is the difficulty of removing all the cancerous cells during surgery, and so the team is looking at new therapies that can block the spread.
“You have to use your brain and be smarter than the biological question that you’re trying to answer,” she told me.
As I’ve been travelling around, I’ve heard quite a few researchers speak about the buzz around immunotherapies, getting the immune system to fight cancer cells. So it was really exciting to meet Professor Awen Gallimore in Cardiff, who is working on ways to get therapies to recognise more types of cancer.
And, right now, they’re starting a new study looking at acute myeloid leukaemia.
Awen said that donations are really important for them to continue their studies “in as efficient and comprehensive a way as possible”. And she’s been convinced by her daughter to put on her 22 year old trainers and take part in a 5km run for raise funds for Cancer Research UK.
Another thing Awen really likes is working with the next generation of researchers.
“What’s great about working with PhD students is seeing them develop over those 3-4 years in the lab”, she said.
“Watching them honing their scientific skills is extremely rewarding as they will be the ones who then go off and generate new ideas.”
Listen to Awen talk about her work:
In Bristol, I met a couple of members of the ‘Tour de Cure’ team, who are a group of Lloyds Bank employees cycling 275 miles over four days between their offices in Halifax and Bristol.
James, one of the organisers of the first Tour, four years ago, draws his motivation from the loss of his father to cancer. And his fundraising has become even more personal after he was treated for testicular cancer earlier this year.
I spoke to them while they were trying to drum up a bit more sponsorship money from colleagues.
They had their bikes on static training stands, and were generating plenty of sympathy with people wondering why they were cycling so far, and also plenty of extra donations.
James told me that the ‘veterans’ of the Tour will be supporting the newbies.
“Waking up on Saturday morning with really tired legs and having to do another 70 miles of rolling countryside will be quite a challenge for some of the new riders,” he said.
Listen to James talk about his fundraising:
I also spoke to a couple of the new riders, Ciara and Tristan. Ciara was worried about tackling the hills, saying that the training so far had been “using muscles I’m not used to [but] it’s been great to get out on the bike and explore the countryside as well as knowing that I’m doing it for a good cause.”
And having cycled from the Cotswolds back to London over a couple of days, I can imagine what they’re in for.
I’m wrapping up my own ‘Tour of Britain’ with a trip to a Cancer Research UK roadshow in Wrexham and a final researcher in Cambridge, but it’s been stunning to see the breadth of the research that is taking place all over the UK, and the different people who are helping that research happen.
One thing I’ve seen is that bit by bit, researchers are uncovering more and more about how cancer works and devising new and better ways of treating it, including cancers that have previously been thought untreatable.
Fundraisers like Bernard, Jayne and the Tour de Cure crew are all showcasing different ways that people can get involved as well, and along with great ways of raising money, they’re also getting great personal satisfaction.
But, ultimately, it’s the research that’s made possible by that fundraising and Cancer Research UK which is helping people like Stephen and Milo right now with treatments.
So we can’t afford to rest on our laurels.
Garry traveled over 2,000 miles on his journey to find out what’s happening in cancer right now
Read his other diary posts