Monday, 5 October 2015

Forever hopeful - Manchester Cancer Research Centre - Jo Taylor

Jo Taylor - Christie patient

Jo Taylor
This summer I was honoured to be asked by Cancer Research UK to attend the opening of the new £28.5 million centre located across from The Christie, where I attend as a patient. I want to give you a feel for what happened on the day and what the fuss is all about.

The name of the campaign that the building was built for was the 'More tomorrows' campaign.

The Manchester Cancer Research Centre's (MCRC) main aim is to build a better quality of life for patients and families.

On arrival I meet Ali Barbuti from CRUK, Clare Dickinson from The Christie and Katy Holiday from MCRC.

I was delighted to meet Clare Callaghan @keepsmilingcsc who is surviving womb cancer and whom I was already following on Twitter. I also met Matt Dillon who blogs at and has a Facebook page about his experience with brain cancer. Matt had just finished radiotherapy for a reoccurrence and a week later was starting chemotherapy before flying back to his home in Australia. Good luck Matt with your treatment, thinking about you.

The day started with a video by Professor Nick Jones, who introduced the building and why there was collaboration between The Christie, Cancer Research UK and the University of Manchester. The main ethos is to drive personal medicine. New drugs rates are low and they want to match patients to the correct drugs that work for them. There was a BRCA 2 gene patient story where someone was being offered a choice of different treatments due to this new work.

The building is world class, bringing scientists, clinicians and other professionals together in one building to share information, learning and science.

There are five labs with different cancers being studied in each of them. Communication is key to developing new drugs which will be helped by bringing new talents together under one roof, which is why the MRCR will work so amazingly well. One example given was that there has been little impact on melanoma over the last 40 years but there are new treatments now coming through that have arisen through collaborations. There has also been research on small cell lung cancer and clinical trials to help patients live longer.

MCRC building

PhD students at the research centre will be trained in the labs by world leading professionals. The MCRC is trailblazing by bringing scientists and clinicians together in one place.

In his presentation, Dr Allan Jordan advised that Manchester was THE best place to do work in cancer research and they are hoping to continue this with the new building.

In 1970, only 25% survived a diagnosis of cancer. Now, the cancer survival rate across the board has increased to 50%. Improving quality of life and overall survival are what researchers and clinicians are striving for.

Local statistics in the North West show that the death rates in Manchester total 35,000 people who die with cancer each year. The most prevalent diseases are breast, lung, bowel and prostate. Even though they are concentrating on these they are also looking at other cancers that may not be as common but may warrant research.

There were amazing facts and figures about your body. Did you know that in just one minute the body has made 300 million new red blood cells? We were told to hold our little fingers because there are more cells in your little finger than there have been people in the world! Mind blowing.

We need cells for growth, healing and making new cells. The reason why cancer happens is that there is an accumulation of faults. This can be due to the DNA, carcinogens, natural cell progressions, inheritance or a virus.

What the MCRC are trying to do is to help improve care by better understanding cancer - with better clinical understanding, better application of this understanding, and better clinical trials.

During the open day we also heard more about the history of The Christie. The hospital was 'born' in 1892 and was called "the home for the incurables" it was the first hospital outside London for the treatment of cancer. The Christie was named after Philanthropists Mr and Mrs Christie.

Interestingly, there was a development of a new practice called radiotherapy. The Christie had to buy lead radium and local brewery Joseph Holt helped to fund the purchase of radium so you can say that radiotherapy was originally was funded by beer! Cheers!

Manchester became world famous for its approach to radiotherapy through the use of the 'The Manchester Method' in the 1930s.

In 1969, Tamoxifen was a surprise discovery from work on oral contraceptives by three researchers. It went into clinical trials at The Christie with 46 patients as a targeted therapy. Ten patients showed immediate response and tumour shrinkage. This was the first clinical trial and the first real targeted therapy.

Manchester is also the first UK centre of excellence for prostate cancer research.

There are many new professionals that have been brought together from around the world to work at this new building and they will benefit from having access to one of the world's biggest early phase clinical trials unit across the road at The Christie. Did you know to get a new drug to market costs between $800m - $1300m? That's a staggering amount of money.

The NHS is an amazing community for being able to work with specialist cancer hospitals for clinical trials due to the amount of people that are in the system in the UK. This, we are told, is what is different to other countries around the world that have private healthcare. Many hospitals work in isolation. The NHS helps all patients across the board to get into trials. There are over 2400 patients participating in 400 different trials at The Christie this year.

An amazing story was about using a compound that was patented in Barcelona and two scientists chatting over a beer (cheers again - there seems to be a pattern developing…) helped to speed up the drug's use. This resulted in the drug being able to go into early trial instead of the usual lengthy approval process. This trial was for acute myeloid leukaemia and it has been very successful.

MCRC is able to provide cancer genome sequencing at a cost of £1500 now, instead of the huge amount of money it used to cost. Doctors will have the patient's gene sequence overnight after a sample of their tumour has been analysed.

It is important that MCRC collaborates around the world and fosters collaborations with other hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. There are around 30 new professional people employed working together bringing great minds together from all over the world. The Christie, Cancer Research UK and The University of Manchester are working together as partners, giving strength to cover huge areas in cancer research.

The presentation was extremely interesting and highlighted just what an amazing place Manchester is and the hope for the future of cancer treatment.

I for one was blown away by what Manchester has done and is still doing for the world, in relation to cancer treatments and therapies. Dr Allan Jordan provided a brilliant insight as to what they were doing. Thank you so much for this.

We were treated to a tour around the building and through the labs upstairs at the MCRC. It was very emotional to think that these pristine, white, empty (apart from chairs, tables and microscopes) labs will be a hub of activity soon when scientists and clinicians are moved into them to actually work. Not just that, but we could be standing in the exact lab that they find a cure for cancer in or for a specific cancer or specific treatment for a type of cancer.

At the MCRC they have seating and workspace areas all around for colleagues to work and talk to promote open discussions about what they are doing and a large cafe area for them to sit in and chat. It does seem very much like the 'Apple' of the science world and similar to these new start-up companies that work, chat and socialise together. It's a hugely exciting time for everyone involved.

Regan and Faron at the MCRC
On the following Saturday we returned as a family so my children Regan and Faron could see the building and have an understanding of what goes on in science. They were shown by a scientist how to extract DNA from a strawberry and we still have this in our fridge. I must say that Jeff and the children were completely blown away and it hopefully has fuelled an interest in the children into science. Who knows what the future holds.

If this is the way forward then they must be encouraged to do whatever they need to do to help these amazing minds unlock the secrets of cancer which will bring hope to all cancer patients.

Manchester is an amazing place that I'm hugely proud of and I'm sure that these advances in medicine will continue.

Thank you so much for inviting me to look around and to meet you all, it was an amazing experience and I look forward to hearing about great new discoveries in the near future!

I'm forever hopeful.

Jo runs a website to support primary and secondary breast cancer patients at and can be contacted via Twitter at @abcdiagnosis or followed on Facebook at

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