Birmingham is one of the UK and world leaders in research and last week I was lucky enough to see why!
Accompanied by our favourite Brummie, Research Director Chris Bunce,on Friday I was privileged that three of our leading Birmingham researchers kindly squeezed me in to their incredibly busy schedules to share their views on strategy to deliver the most benefit to patients as quickly as possible.
I met Professor Paul Moss many years ago, when I accompanied the wife and sister of a much loved man who died as a consequence of GvHD, a post transplant complication where the donor cells attack the cells of the transplant recipient.It's a strange disease because it's great that it can help to kill off any residual leukaemia, but not great that it can cause major problems in the eyes, skin, gut and lungs and sadly can be life threatening. Ex-England footballer Geoff Thomas has mild GvHD following his transplant, which means he has to use eye drops all of the time. I was very impressed by Paul's professionalism and compassion on that first meeting and that has only increased over the years that I've known him.
Paul has for many years been at the forefront of research in this area, and on Friday he shared some very exciting breaking news which may in time bring great hope for GvHD sufferers. Paul's colleague Jo Croudace explained with great simplicity that by looking at the progress of the new blood system much sooner after transplant-after the first and second week rather than the first and second month- they can monitor a particular type of T cell and the quicker these develop the less likely the patient is to get GvHD. It is early days but this prognostic indicator may enable earlier therapeutic intervention for those most at risk of developing GvHD. This research will be part of Paul's forthcoming application for further programme funding and is an important reminder why our investment in research programmes is so important.
We then caught up with Professor Jon Frampton who had been celebrating winning an award in London until the early hours- a nice reminder that these incredibly clever people are human too! To be fair I should also emphasize his consummate professionalism and incredible knowledge too as Jon has an important programme looking at why cells in AML patients aren't properly regulated.Jon was able to show us our new Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research office in the medical school, which will enable patients and fundraisers throughout the midlands to come and meet us at the heart of our research in Birmingham. Later in the year we'll be having an opening launch so do email us if you'd like to put your name down in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last but by no means least was a meeting with Professor Charlie Craddock, who is absolutely determined to do all that he can possibly do in his lifetime to help blood cancer patients. Its thanks to Charlie's incredible energy and determination that a Leukaemia Centre opened at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in 2006. This Centre enables blood cancer patients to be treated in a comfortable and sympathetic environment and combines aspects of treatments and trials all on one site. It is located close to the hospital and to our research laboratories and consequently has probably the closest to seamless translation of research into patient benefit, of any of our Centres of Excellence.Charlie introduced us to a patient called David, who has had two transplants and who is now on a clinical trial for myelodysplasia. David's quiet courage in recognising that even if the trial doesn't benefit him, it will help others,was deeply touching.
We also discussed the early successes of our Trials Acceleration Programme (TAP), but also the urgent need to extend the programme further which will undoubtedly require a much greater financial investment.
A day like this reminds me yet again what a privilege it is to be Chief Executive of this wonderful charity and how fortunate we are to have a community of such dedicated and determined researchers who I know will not stop until they've beaten blood cancers.