Laura Pickering
Posted by
Laura Pickering

Leading the health revolution

Laura Pickering
Posted by
Laura Pickering
28 Apr 2015

We don’t do research for research’s sake. We do research that changes patients’ lives.

In the past, a research organisation might have had a more traditional focus on researchers and their needs. But the only reason we do research is so that we can change the lives of those with life-threatening health conditions, so we’ve made sure the patient is at the heart of everything we do. Every researcher we fund needs to show us that they’ve thought about how their research could have a practical impact for people with blood cancer. This will help us translate more of our research into new medical treatments. We’ll then test the treatments and, if they’re promising, develop them so they can be used by patients.

But it’s really expensive for us to take one of our researcher’s ideas and develop it into a potential new treatment. And we can’t just take the money we would’ve normally spent on understanding more about the biology of blood cancers and plough it all into research that tests new treatments – because then we’d stop making progress in the future! It’d be like robbing Peter to pay Paul.

So we need to increase the amount of money we’re spending on research. That way, we’ll know more about how blood cancer works. And at the same time, we’ll fund more research that turns this knowledge into something that’ll directly improve patients’ lives.

We’ve come a long way. But we know we can do more to improve treatments.

What has been achieved in blood cancer research compared to other diseases is astounding. Major advances in cancer medicine as a whole tend to come first from blood cancer research – chemotherapy was fi rst used successfully in blood cancer patients. The research we do changes how people with blood cancer are treated around the world, not just here in the UK.

But now we’re not happy with treatments like chemotherapy – even though they’ve saved many lives, they’re very harmful too. They damage healthy cells, potentially causing nasty side effects during a patient’s treatment and for years afterwards.

Blood cancer researchers are yet again proving that there are ways we can do more for patients. For example, we’re breaking new ground by funding research into cell-based treatments, which reprogramme a patient’s own immune cells to fight the cancer. We’re also developing the next generation of targeted drugs that act as homing missiles to seek out the cancer cells without harming healthy cells. Biological therapies like these will be vital if we want to see people with blood cancer not only surviving but going on to live their lives to the full.

We’re driving change for patients with our innovative ‘first in human’ trials.

Sometimes our researchers make discoveries that lead to a potential new treatment, but it’s never been tested in humans before. So we need a safe way to test these promising new therapies to see if they can benefit patients. Last year, we partnered with Cancer Research UK to fund trials like these – called ‘first in human’ trials – to start progressing some of these discoveries into new medicines.

In 2014 we started working on our first ‘first in human’ trial – it’s very exciting. The trial will test a new drug that targets a certain type of white blood cell that – when faulty – can cause non-Hodgkin lymphomas like diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and mantle cell lymphoma, as well as chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL). DLBCL is one of the five diseases that makes up nearly 70% of lives lost to blood cancers five years after diagnosis, so it could have a massive impact.

Expect the unexpected – the next great discovery is out there.

With research, it’s hard to predict exactly what the next big breakthrough will be. It could be something we haven’t even heard about yet.

We invest in curiosity in the unknown – there’s magic out there in our research community, and sometimes it’s in this magic that the next big game-changing discovery is found.

We can do some things to make this more likely – like funding open-minded scientists and working with other innovative organisations – but at the end of the day it comes down to funding.

The more money we raise, the more research we can fund, and the more chance we have of finding that breakthrough. And these discoveries crop up more frequently in blood cancer research than in any other disease, so with your help we could find it sooner.

We’re leading the world, but we need your help to do even more.

For the money the UK puts into blood cancer research, we do an incredible amount – our research is considered to be amongst the best, if not the best, in the world.

This progress hasn’t happened by accident. We’re an internationally renowned organisation with world-leading researchers and we’ve been working hard to make it happen for over fifty years. But it could happen quicker, and we need to sustain and
build on it: not just for the benefi t of blood cancer patients, but for medicine as a whole.

It’s not talent, ideas or expertise that are in short supply – it’s money. With more money we could go even further. We want to fund every researcher that comes to us with the dream of beating blood cancer – they might just be the one who has that magical breakthrough.

This isn’t rhetoric. Together, we can do it.

In the long term, I think we can make sure that being diagnosed with blood cancer is like being told you need to wear glasses. Where it doesn’t feel like the end of the world to be diagnosed with blood cancer.

But the world won’t just wake up one day like this – it’ll happen bit by bit, and we’ll get there with some diseases sooner than we will with others. Thanks to innovative drugs that were decades in the making, chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) is nearly at that point today: people can take a pill every day and to a large extent get on with their lives.

I became a blood cancer researcher before joining Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research because blood cancer research can change the lives of people with other cancers too.

It can be done – this isn’t rhetoric. No one knows when we’ll get there, but we will get there. The only real block is money. We have the ingenuity to beat blood cancer, what we need is the resource to do it.

 

£3 a month over a year will help us analyse over 40 blood cell samples – and any one of them could hold the key to a new discovery. Help fund our ground-breaking research by donating today.

 

 

You can read 'Together We Can', our 2015 supporter newsletter, here.