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Northern Ireland crowdfunding research platform a first in the battle against cancer

By Rachel Martin

Published 25/07/2016

A Northern Ireland cancer charity is asking the public to chip in online to support the next generation of research into the disease
A Northern Ireland cancer charity is asking the public to chip in online to support the next generation of research into the disease

A Northern Ireland cancer charity is asking the public to chip in online to support the next generation of research into the disease.

The concept - a first of its kind in the UK - aims to allow web-users to back ideas they want to see used as cancer treatments.

Crowdfunding platform ResearchFunderNI.com invites people to invest in exchange for rewards.

The project aims to encourage researchers to develop approches to tackling all forms of the disease, including breast, colorectal, lung and blood.

The site, set up by Cancer Focus NI and the Cancer Research and Cell Biology Centre at Queen's University, works like traditional online fundraising campaigns except that it offers the rewards.

The concept has been backed by scientists, who say the platform could accelerate the search for treatments and cures.

Professor Ken Mills of Queen's said he believed research was being held back because of limited funding for smaller projects, which are vital for providing vital information needed for larger studies.

He explained: "One of the barriers to cancer research is that the large-scale research projects often rely on data obtained for pilots.

"Funding for small-scale projects can be difficult to obtain and that's why we're using technology to create a platform in essence to digitally disrupt how funding for early stage cancer research is sourced.

"We estimate that such funding could accelerate the speed at which new cancer drugs could be used in clinics by up to 12 years."

The rewards offered include newsletters, updates and behind-the-scenes pictures from the laboratories, as well as exclusive tours of them for those who donate the largest amounts.

Eight research campaigns have already been launched in an attempt to raise up to £100,000.

Projects range from the purchase of essential equipment for pilots such as an ultra-cold freezer to store samples at minus eighty degrees, to repurposing existing safe and approved drugs by applying them in new therapies for breast cancer.

And it includes pioneering research such as Dr Niamh Buckley's work to identify new biological markers for aggressive breast cancers.

The research has the potential to allow doctors to predict which patients are likely to respond to chemotherapy and means patients could be treated in more effective ways, reducing the side-effects of using drugs which won't be as effective for that individual.

Dr Buckley is offering anyone who donates more than £500 the opportunity to take a tour of the laboratories where they can meet the researchers involved in the project.

Meanwhile, Dr Jonathan Coulter hopes to use the crowdfunding platform to raise £25,000 for his idea to use gold particles during radiotherapy to increase the effectiveness of targeting and killing prostate cancer stem cells.

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