Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: QUB ensure legacy of professor lives on

Editor's Viewpoint

The world of medicine and of academia suffered a grievous loss earlier this year through the untimely death of the Queen's University Vice-Chancellor Professor Patrick Johnston at the age of 58.

Shortly before his death in June, Professor Johnston was informed that he and his colleagues had secured a £800,000 grant from Cancer Research UK (CRUK) to fund a ground-breaking research project on bowel cancer.

The research will examine why chemotherapy works for some bowel cancer sufferers but not for others. It is hoped that this will result in drastically cutting the numbers of people who undergo chemotherapy, while also improving survival rates.

Every year some 1,200 people in Northern Ireland are diagnosed with bowel cancer, and around 420 die from the illness.

Professor Daniel Longley, a close colleague of the late Professor Johnston, underlined the sense of loss at his early death.

He said: "Patrick Johnston has left a tremendous legacy, and we feel a sense of responsibility to fulfil his vision, but it is a pity that he will not be here to see the results of this project."

Professor Johnston was the classical example of a local boy made good. He hailed from Londonderry, and after a glittering school and university career he took a top job in America in 1987.

He could easily have spent his entire career in the USA, but he returned to Northern Ireland to contribute to the entire community here. In 1996 he was appointed Professor of Oncology at Queen's and gathered around him a team that was regarded as world-class in dealing with cancer.

Then in 2014, he took on the difficult challenge as President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen's, at a time when third-level education was experiencing drastic cuts.

Sadly he had only three years in this post, and he still had so much to do.

His former colleagues, people throughout the university, and particularly his family, are still trying to come to terms with the loss of a good and gifted man.

However, Patrick Johnston's legacy will live on, and it will benefit countless people living under the shadow of cancer.

A further breakthrough in cancer research would be the greatest tribute of all to the life and work of Professor Johnston, and we all wish his colleagues well in their important endeavours.

Belfast Telegraph

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