Science Review 2018

In our final science blog of 2018, we review just some of the many highlights from our year.

An unprecedented funding pledge

Each year, we hope to be able to support promising new research projects around Wales and 2018 was no exception. In July, we announced our new pledge for £1.75 million of new funding, for projects commencing in the coming months. Many of these studies will support the early career development of cancer researchers in Wales, including PhD studentships and post-doctoral projects.

Two of the larger projects are continuations of bowel cancer research previously funded by Cancer Research Wales. Bowel cancer represents the second greatest cause of cancer related death in Wales, so we are pleased to support further development of a diagnostic blood test for bowel cancer in collaboration with Swansea University, as well as an immunotherapy clinical trial for bowel cancer patients at high risk of relapse (co-funded with the Anti-Cancer Fund, Belgium).


A busy schedule of science events

With the appointment of additional member of the scientific team earlier this year, we have been busier than ever taking our public engagement activities to schools, community groups, businesses and events around Wales. Our giant inflatable bowel has been to numerous events across the length and breadth of Wales, from Llandudno to Swansea. We have done workshops with over 30 school classes, and have lost count of the number of wooden beads used to make DNA bracelets with families! In 8 days at the National Eisteddfod alone, we used over 6,300!

We were lucky to bookend the year with tours around some of our funded laboratories at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. In February and November, we gave supporters the opportunity to visit the Prostate Cancer lab, the Godkin Gallimore Cancer Immunology lab and the Wales Research and Diagnostic PET Imaging Centre. During the tours, they were able to hear directly from our researchers about their fantastic work. We are always grateful to our scientists for taking time out of their research work to engage with the public, and it certainly had a profound effect on the audiences too.


An ambitious strategy for the next 5 years

There has never been a greater need for research. By 2030 it is estimated that 230,000 people in Wales will be living with cancer. Although survival rates are improving, nearly 9,000 lives are still lost annually. Many cancer related issues are common across the UK, although several challenges exist that are unique, or greater in Wales. Current estimates suggest that an extra 300 lives could be saved every year if Wales just met the European average for cancer survival. So this year, we also outlined an ambitious new research strategy for the next five years.

This year, the scientific committee has worked hard on a new 5 year research strategy, that aims to lessen the burden of cancer on the people of Wales. The strategy will focus on and give priority to funded research that is innovative, timely, relevant and sustainable, with a clear focus on addressing unmet clinical needs. This must confront some of the current challenges and priority areas set out by Welsh Government in their revised Cancer Delivery Plan 2016-2021, and also new threats as they emerge.


Delays in diagnosis and treatment for Welsh bowel cancer patients

As the year draws to a close, we see the much anticipated release of module 4 of the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership. This collaborative work, for which Cancer Research Wales funded the Welsh data collection, aims to quantify international variation in cancer survival and identify factors that influence these statistics, to help improve outcomes for patients.

The latest results, in bowel cancer, reveal that patients in Wales face longer delays than their counterparts in other countries with similar healthcare systems. Patients in Wales waited on average 168 days between first noticing symptoms and receiving first treatment; a delay of 92 additional days compared to the best performing country, Denmark (76 days). A series of further papers are expected to be published soon, with data from other cancer types soon to follow. These results will help to inform how parts of the single cancer pathway should be constructed for optimal performance.


The outlook for 2019

Looking ahead to the next year, we’re keeping up the momentum and expect to announce a new series of grants in the spring. Of course, none of this would be possible without the generous support of the people of Wales. As we roll into 2019, we’re also excited to develop new scientific outreach initiatives, to help us better spread the word of our research to communities around Wales.

The Scientific Committee and Science team at Cancer Research Wales would like to thank everyone for their tremendous support again this year. This just leaves us to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.


Blog written by: Dr Beth Routley