University reaches £4.5 million cancer research target

The University of Aberdeen has reached its fundraising target of £4.5 million to transform cancer research in the North-east of Scotland.

The huge effort has been made possible thanks in large part to a £1 million donation from the Friends of Anchor charity, as well as other donor contributions and many fundraising efforts – including University and NHS Grampian staff raising £30,000 by cycling the North Coast 500.

The funds have already been put to good use by expanding the team of cancer researchers. Breast cancer specialist, Professor Valerie Speirs, joined the University from Leeds last year, and further appointments are planned.

One of Professor Speirs’ key areas of research interest is the relatively under-researched area of male breast cancer. Her lab is also developing approaches to studying breast cancer that use human tissue in place of animal testing.

The other focus of Professor Speirs’ work is in identifying biomarkers - measurable biological indicators of breast cancer, which can help teams treating patients to decipher how the disease is likely to progress, and treat it accordingly.

Over the last academic year, several undergraduate and postgraduate students have carried out research projects in Prof Speirs’ lab, contributing towards their degrees and adding to the cancer research capability in North-east Scotland.

Elaine Shallcross, who lost both her parents to cancer and whose brother has been successfully treated, was diagnosed with breast cancer last August and says fundraising for cancer research is ‘particularly important for her’.

“Thanks to research I have received incredible medical care, including the most sophisticated drugs tailored to treat my particular cancer. As I began my treatment, I pledged to raise £10,000 in support of breast cancer research at the University. I chose this particular research programme for two reasons; firstly, I am inspired by Professor Speirs’ research on biomarkers, thanks to her work I am optimistic that my daughters and granddaughter will benefit from early diagnosis and management that will improve on survival rates. Secondly, I have a great affection for the University having been employed in the Library for nearly 24 years prior to my retirement in 2016.”

Elaine has already raised almost £3,000 to support the University’s breast cancer research programme by knitting and selling 'Bressie Beanies' - hats inspired by the American snowboarder, Chloe Kim.

Elaine added: “Making and selling Bressie beanies has been a positive therapy for me throughout my treatment, and a perfect way for me to contribute to research that will make a difference to the lives of men and women who are yet to receive the devastating news that they have cancer."

Professor Paul Fowler, Director of the University’s Institute of Medical Sciences, said: “We are incredibly grateful to Friends of ANCHOR and all the donors like Elaine who helped us to exceed our campaign target so quickly.

"This project was spearheaded by the previous Head of the Medical School, Professor Steve Heys, and it was his drive combined with the generous support of our donors that will provide a vital boost to cancer research in Aberdeen, enabling us to accelerate and expand our work to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancer. 

“Our research will also help ensure that NHS Grampian’s new ANCHOR Centre and Baird Family Hospital, which will soon be under construction, provide the very best in cancer care. We are working with NHS Grampian, Friends of ANCHOR, ARCHIE’s Friends of the Special Nursery and NHS Grampian Endowment Fund to achieve this ambition.

“Only research can beat cancer, and we are proud that the University of Aberdeen is part of the fight.”