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Scientists hail ‘transformational’ cancer research funding

Glasgow picked as base to pioneer new radiotherapy technologies and techniques.

Professor Anthony Chalmers with Jak Deschner. <strong>Steve Welsh</strong>
Professor Anthony Chalmers with Jak Deschner. Steve Welsh

Scientists have been awarded £3.5m to pioneer new radiotherapy technologies and techniques that could help more people survive cancer.

Glasgow has been chosen as one of seven centres of excellence by Cancer Research UK to help accelerate advances in radiotherapy research.

The funding will support researchers to develop and test new radiotherapy-drug combinations and new radiotherapy techniques.

Scientists and doctors will focus on improving radiotherapy for patients with hard-to-treat cancers and cancers with poor prognosis, such as lung, brain, pancreatic, and head and neck cancers.

Professor Anthony Chalmers, chair of clinical oncology at Glasgow University, is lead researcher for the centre and described the funding as “transformational”.

He said: “The funding will transform our ability to develop new radiotherapy technologies that will help more people beat cancer, while causing fewer side effects so that patients will have a better quality of life after treatment.

“An important fact about radiotherapy is that it can cure many cancers. In my view, this ability isn’t given enough attention.

“Our focus will be on patients with cancers that are too advanced or are too close to critical healthy tissues for us to cure them with current protocols.

“In the long-term we hope that this funding will help us develop new treatment strategies so that more people with lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, head and neck cancer and brain tumours will actually be cured of their disease.”

Jak Deschner, from Stepps, near Glasgow, knows all too well why radiotherapy research is so important.

The 53-year-old former IT manager, who lives with wife Anjie and daughter Sophie, 22, took part in a radiotherapy trial at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre after being diagnosed with a brain tumour in July this year.

A keen cyclist, Jak was returning home from a ride in June when he had a seizure that caused him to come off his bike.

He lost consciousness by the side of the road and woke up in the back of an ambulance on his way to Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

He was discharged that day but, following a second seizure in July, he was given a CT scan which revealed a tumour on his brain.

Jak Deschner following brain surgery at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

Jak then underwent brain surgery at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital to remove as much of the tumour as possible. A sample was sent for testing and he was diagnosed with grade 4 glioblastoma, the most common type of brain tumour.

Jak said: “It was almost like a double shock when I was diagnosed with cancer. There was a part of me that was focused on the brain surgery as the most important thing and, once it was done, there was almost a sigh of relief.

“It was a real hammer blow to hear I had cancer. You think you’ve climbed a mountain when, in actual fact, you’ve just plateaued.”

Following his diagnosis, Jak underwent six weeks of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. As part of his treatment, he took part in the PARADIGM-2 trial, a radiotherapy trial which is led by Prof Chalmers.

Jak will get on his bike to raise money.

Jak said: “It touches my heart that research that’s local to me is going to go on and develop better drugs and better treatments for people like me.

“When I was offered a place on the clinical trial, I said bring it on. Even if it doesn’t help me, it will help the researchers find out important information about the effectiveness of the additional drug with radiotherapy and things like toxicity levels.

“I’m proud to hear that Glasgow is set to benefit from this big investment in radiotherapy research, and I’m proud of the part I’ve played in the ground-breaking research taking place just down the road from me.”

Jak’s treatment will continue with chemotherapy for five days, every 28 days. While he has been told his cancer won’t be cured, it will be managed with chemotherapy and quarterly scans.

He plans to make the most of life and to get back on his beloved bike, including cycling the length of the UK in September next year to raise money for Cancer Research UK.

The ‘RadNet’ funding coincides with the launch of Cancer Research UK’s ‘Right Now’ campaign, which highlights experiences like Jak’s, and the impact that research and better treatments can have.

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