NIHR | Manchester Biomedical Research Centre

Improving lives of people living with and beyond cancer – Research Education Day highlights

Louise James

Author: Louise James View Profile

Senior Research Project Manager – Living With and Beyond Cancer

In this blog, Dr Louise James, Senior Research Project Manager at the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), shares insights from the BRC Living with and Beyond Cancer theme’s Research Education Day. This theme is looking into ways of reducing the risk of health problems caused by cancer treatment, and Louise discusses the exciting and impactful progress they have made so far.

Looking back can be just as important as looking forward because we can see how far we have come. This came to mind during the second Living With and Beyond Cancer (LWBC) research day on Wednesday 1 November. The first event in 2021 launched the Manchester LWBC research team aiming to bring together research scientists and clinicians across the city with an interest in the long-term effects of cancer treatments. Now in 2023, work has moved forward at an exciting pace. We had more than 450 participants attend this year’s event which took place in the Education Centre, at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and online. As part of the team, I want to share just a few highlights from the day and look forward to what we aim to achieve in improving the lives of those who are living with the short and long-term consequences of a cancer diagnosis.

Since 2021

  • We have been awarded more than £2.5 million from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to become a new cancer research theme within the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC)
  • We have seen projects progress with exciting results from basic science through to the new patient screening initiative
  • We will soon move into space designated for LWBC research within the new Paterson building at The Christie
The new Paterson Building at The Christie

The new Paterson Building at The Christie which has space dedicated for LWBC research.

BRC funding has allowed us to significantly increase the scope of our research with a focus on cardiovascular and bone health issues as well as preventing the development of second and recurrent cancers after treatment.

LWBC projects fit with the overall aims of the BRC to:

  • Understand the illnesses most relevant to the population of our region
  • Find new ways to make correct diagnoses and treat disease
  • Discover how to prevent ill health in people

In 2021 we heard from 4 patients dealing with significant effects from their treatment. This time we focused on one of the golden threads running through our BRC work – the mental health aspects of LWBC, particularly focusing on teenagers and young adults (TYA). We thank Ellie and Josh for sharing their stories and honest thoughts on how their diagnosis has affected their mental wellbeing. As Ellie said, ‘No one expects that diagnosis (of cancer) and I didn’t understand the true repercussions of it on my emotional health.’ Josh added, ‘I have not gone through this unscathed, I have come through the other side with a lot of anxiety.’ We heard about new projects planning to understand the mental health support needs of TYA patients with cancer to target and improve care. It is essential that we continually listen and reflect on patient experiences and perspectives. This informs and drives our research programmes.

In 2021 Dr Claire Higham (Consultant Endocrinologist, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and BRC LWBC Programme Lead) and Prof Darren Ashcroft (Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology, University of Manchester) outlined a plan to screen large datasets to identify patients who may be at risk of poor bone health, specifically radiotherapy related fractures. This time, Claire presented findings from this work showing that a significantly increased risk of having a bone fracture is strongly associated with a cancer diagnosis in 18 of the top 20 most common cancers. They now plan to extend this study to include children and TYA cancer survivors to begin to understand how treatment affects the risk of fracture in this distinct patient group.

This year we also heard from Prof John Radford (Professor of Medical Oncology, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and Manchester BRC LWBC Co-Theme Lead) and Dr Kim Linton (Clinical Senior Lecturer, Medical Oncology, University of Manchester and Manchester BRC LWBC Programme Lead) about substantial progress made with the award-winning BARD (Breast screening After Radiotherapy Dataset) programme. By linking Cancer Registry, treatment and research data, BARD is a national list of women at high risk of breast cancer following previous radiotherapy involving breast tissue to facilitate screening for this group. This approach has led to presentations shaping national LWBC policy and John will also be presenting details of BARD and related work to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cancer in December.

Two years ago, we highlighted LWBC projects planned or just underway. This year it was fantastic to demonstrate that our programme included two completed projects, two nearing completion, one midway, one just starting and one in planning.  These ranged from work focused on developing individualised screening protocols for women at high risk of breast cancer following radiotherapy, through to the development of screening protocols for patients at risk of lung cancer following curative treatment for Hodgkin lymphoma (HL). This work is leading towards a national lung cancer screening programme in very high-risk HL survivors. Another presentation focused on the development of new molecules that indicate toxicity to the heart caused by chemotherapy. We also learnt about the development of a needs assessment tool specifically for young brain cancer survivors, a questionnaire and interview study looking at musculoskeletal health in adult lymphoma and leukaemia survivors highlighting the impact on their quality of life, and a digital technology project which can help meet the needs of lymphoma survivors.

One of the participants on the day described the breadth of work underway as ‘mind-blowing’ and I can’t help but agree!
The new Paterson building at The Christie

The education day was an important reminder of the impact research can make and I would encourage people to consider careers in health research. I was always fascinated by science at school and chose to study biology at university. After a PhD at The University of Manchester, I worked in the original Paterson Institute, for 7 years as a research scientist, looking for genetic changes in early breast cancer. Although I then moved roles, I remember being shocked to see the results of the fire which gutted part of the building a few years ago. I came back to research nearly 4 years ago and am excited to be moving into the impressive new Paterson building (pictured left). I enjoy feeling part of the LWBC team and am still learning new things every day.

Going forward

As we look forward, we have much to be excited about.

We have 4 further years of BRC funding and in that time, we expect to have several new projects underway. These include the use of previously collected scan images with a view to improving risk prediction for treatment related breast cancer and also to investigate risk factors for fractures following radiotherapy. We will be moving into the new £150 million Paterson building in December 2023 and for the first time will have a space designed especially for collaboration for up to 20 members of the LWBC team including academic, clinical and research managers who are committed to improving lives through research.

The education day was a great reminder of the impact our work can have for patients following a diagnosis of cancer.

We have come a long way in the last couple of years and I’m really looking forward to what is to come!