Breakthrough Cancer Research:

2017 in numbers



Orla Dolan knows better than most that no one is exempt from cancer. The Chief Executive of Breakthrough Cancer Research saw her father, a world renowned cancer surgeon himself, set up a research centre before dying of the very disease he dedicated his life to fighting.

That research centre looked to bring clinicians and researchers together to enhance innovation in treatment of the most persistent and difficult cancers.

“At its most extreme level, cancer research is about saving the lives we can’t save today.”

With the charity having been set up with the same ethos and approach, Orla explains why she sees research as being so pivotal: “We want to save the people we can’t save today.” The challenge her father identified – how to better engage doctors on the front line with clinical research – is still just as present today.

Ireland’s doctors and surgeons are spread incredibly thin in comparison to other EU nations, making the job for researchers and clinicians even harder. “The passion is there, but the time isn’t,” she says.

Despite its size, Ireland punches above its weight in terms of innovative research. “We’re a small country, but we have incredibly innovative, passionate people.”

The stakes are high if you work in cancer research. To encourage an entire country or health system to take on a new treatment, you first have to prove that it will work and you need researchers, clinicians and patients involved.

One recent clinical trial in Dublin provides a clear example of why clinicians’ links to research is so vital.

Ireland punches above its weight for innovative research: “we have incredibly passionate people."

Observations of patients oesophageal cancer saw chemotherapy have varying success rates, despite patients being at the same stage and level of health.

Researchers found that some of the cancer cells themselves were different from patient to patient. The standard chemotherapy aims to set off the cancer cell’s ‘self destruct’ function, but it was being blocked by some of the cancer cells, while working on others. 

A combination of a bi-polar drug and a chemotherapy drug now aims to target the rogue cells, which if successful will mean doctors simply need to establish which type of cell is present in order to treat the cancer.

“That could have taken five years to establish in research alone. The clinical input brought that forward and made it happen much faster,” Orla says.


Moving from the lab to the clinic

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