Today it was my privilege to be the invited speaker at a local event raising funds for Cancer Research UK, our leading cancer research charity in the UK.  I picked on work that is currently in the news (not work I am involved in personally).  Try this excellent lay person’s summary from the CR-UK website http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2012/04/18/increasing-the-resolution-on-breast-cancer-the-metabric-study/.  This illustrates so many points.

At its heart was an international collaboration dissecting the molecular events underpinning breast cancer.  This depended on the painstaking building of tissue collections.  It linked these to patients’ data.  Analysis coupled these to high-throughput assays and statistical methods capable of handling so many data.  The result was reclassification of this disease into 10 subtypes with different outcomes.  So the molecular signature impacted on prognosis.  Understanding this may lead to new treatments.  This is the foundation of what is now called stratified or personalised medicine: the recognition at a fundamental level of the individuality of a patient, a cancer and a treatment plan.

Cancer Research UK is building the infrastructure for more work like this through its Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres and the Stratified Medicine Programme across the UK.

I also talked about the politics of cancer science, partly in response to an earnest question about the iniquities of the pharmaceutical industry.

I believe that scientific research and understanding are at the heart of what it is to live in a free, accountable and democratic country. Charitable and public funding  create the framework for transparency and peer review and spread of excellent information to non-specialists.  Science thrives on challenge.  Publicly funded cancer research identify and address patients’ needs, balancing the drive for profits in industry.   These values are the core of what makes good science, the very opposite of arbitrary authority, domination by the wealthy, dogma and the rote learning of an accepted canon.

Without public and charitable money, research would all be owned by the pharmaceutical industry.  In partnership, industry is harnessed to need.  What is being done here is a quiet revolution: in the terms of the day, a Cancer Spring.

10 responses to “Spring

  1. Funny you should speak of Cancer politics – I am very much involved with the politics of Canadian MS/CCSVI and the terrible behavior of Big Pharma and neurologists regarding new and possibly groundbreaking research. All anyone wants, really, is research without abnormal money bias – but it is a huge mountain to climb.
    Oh, and your watercolour work is beautiful too!!!

    • Thanks for your interesting comments. Neurology research is an area I know nothing about of course.
      I wonder whether the size of the cancer research charitable sector makes it a more formidable counterweight to the pharmaceutical industry. Both are needed of course.
      Oh, and to return the compliment in spades. I went on your blog. The broken bumblebee painting from 7th may is simply stunning.

    • Hi
      I don’t know about amazing except perhaps that we all are. You sometimes have mentioned your own work which is also amazing.
      But what is being done in cancer research amazes me.

  2. I applaud you for your involvement in supporting cancer research! I have lost most all of my closest loved ones to cancer (although not breast cancer, specifically). It’s funny that you’ve posted birds here as the birds I’ve drawn myself are all directly related to my experience care-giving to both my mom and dad as they slowly died of cancer. Cancer in all its biological forms has touched the lives of most everyone I know; I fear it will only grow more prevalent as the world ages. Proactivity is key!

    • Thank you. But please don’t applaud. I didn’t post for that. I genuinely find this a rewarding area of work, intellectually and at a human level and I want to share that. I gain so much personally from my work. I am sorry for your losses. You are right, cancer is always with us. I have learned that life is unpredictable. Quality of life is so important, whatever span we are allowed. Art, music, drama, fun, intellectual stimulation, scientific enquiry, friendship, love – these are what enriches life whereas lengthening life alone is not a sufficient endeavour.

      • Agreed, it really is all about quality of life! But I think most people couldn’t or wouldn’t volunteer time without an agenda, out of complete selflessness. Your humility marks you as a rare sort of person. So… that makes you even *more* awesome!

      • Hi. I have to declare an interest. I get paid as a doctor and scientist. I do work long hours but I’m no more noble than anyone else. Seriously. I was reading your site while you were reading mine. It’s great. I was reading about printing and thinking seriously about how to build a press from a bottle jack so thanks for that link. Creativity is important. Going back to the science, the creativity involved in great science is astounding. I’m in awe of that as much as of great art. The makings of the universe are pieced together by building models. They might be visuals or psychological or social representations, based in tone or harmony, or constructed in math and probability, or networks of expressed genes and chromosomal variants. This representation, the building of models to grasp at reality, this is at the core of our humanity I believe. Humility is not one of my virtues by the way. I am passionate for art and science equally. It’s not all there is to it but I think that is what I am trying to say, here, on an art blog.

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