Scientists in Northern Ireland are set to be at the forefront in the global fight against cancer as a new world class centre of excellence opens in Belfast today.
As one of the first to be launched, the Belfast Cancer Research UK Centre is set to be at the forefront of developing treatments tailored to individual cancer patients.
Based on the Lisburn Road, it is part of a chain of centres that are being opened across the UK.
It will help set the pace for national and international progress in cancer of the bowel, oesophagus and breast.
The Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB), opened in 2007 but the Cancer Research UK Centre will provide the resources to improve the link between the CCRCB and cancer services in Belfast for the benefit of cancer patients.
It will draw together world class research and areas of medical expertise to provide the best possible results for cancer patients nationwide.
It will also concentrate on pioneering the latest techniques in radiotherapy, improving cancer diagnosis and developing new, more effective drugs.
The centre brings together the researchers and support from Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Research and Development Office, Cancer Research UK and Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.
Cancer Research UK says 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.
The leading charity already supports research in Northern Ireland but is looking to increase its contribution up to £2.5m a year to help develop the centre.
Latest figures show that around 7,000 cancer cases are diagnosed in Northern Ireland each year.
And more than 3,700 people die from cancer in Northern Ireland every year.
There are also over 1,050 cases of breast cancer in women each year in Northern Ireland and around 300 deaths.
There are also around 970 cases of bowel cancer each year which claim around 400 lives.
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 he had cancer.
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 and this gives hope for the future — not just for me, but for others,” he said.
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: “Northern Ireland is the third link in this exciting chain of cancer centres.
We’ll be focusing our efforts on |better diagnosis and developing new personalised treatments
“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 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.”
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.”