A Year in Review: 2023
2023 was a busy year for Cancer Research Wales, as we look to grow and do even more to improve cancer outcomes through research. This year we moved into our new offices at Neptune Court and had a number of new staff join us, so there is fresh feel to the charity and a great platform to build on going forwards. Keep an eye on our social media to keep up to date with all the exciting things happening across 2024.
It was also a good year for our Research team, with our portfolio of funded research projects looking stronger than ever – the next few years promise to deliver some transformative innovations for cancer patients in Wales. Here, in our annual blog, we look back at some of the highlights from 2023.
Supporting the highest quality cancer research across Wales is at the core of what we do as a charity and 2023 was no different.
Our grant call, which announced outcomes at the start of 2023, attracted an unprecedented number of applications – it was wonderful to see the breadth of innovative ideas and research questions, with applications coming in from all across the country. In the end, following our rigorous review process, 11 projects were selected for funding, with a total cost of over £1.5 million. This is a significant investment and we are very excited to see the progress that the researchers make over the coming months and years.
The funded projects include 4 PhD studentships, supporting the training of the next generation of researchers, and 7 post-doctoral research projects split between Bangor, Swansea and Cardiff Universities. Topic areas include the use of AI to aid pathologists in diagnosing cancer, development of new drugs for a range of cancer types and understanding why and how some cancers can resist chemotherapy treatment.
These new projects, many of which are already underway, add to our burgeoning portfolio of funded research. This includes funding for two major clinical trials, BiCCC and ThinkCancer!, which have overcome significant regulatory hurdles this year to now be in a position to kick on strongly as 2024 begins. We can’t wait for these trials to start in earnest and to deliver their benefits to cancer patients in Wales.
Earlier in the year, we also launched two new grant calls which will have their outcomes reported early in the new year. Our Pritchard & Moore Scholarship will support a project in radiotherapy or related research fields, honouring the wonderful legacies of Prof John Pritchard and Prof John Moore. Our Innovation Grants will support preliminary and pilot projects, allowing researchers to test new ideas and develop new avenues of research. We have had lots of interest in these grant calls and look forward to announcing the new funding very soon.
Raman Blood Test
Previous iterations of this blog have mentioned the Raman Blood Test, the development of which Cancer Research Wales has supported for around 10 years. The test can accurately and quickly diagnose bowel cancer from a single blood sample, using advanced machine learning analysis. The team in Swansea have been working hard and it has been a year of exciting developments for this work, which are briefly summarised below.
2023 saw the opening of the Cancer Research Wales-funded COLOSPECT study. This study will take blood samples from 2000 patients who are having a colonoscopy as part of their bowel cancer screening, to assess the accuracy of the Raman Blood Test. So far, 250 patients have been recruited to the study from 4 health boards across Wales – with 2 more health boards set to begin recruiting patients in the new year, the COLOSPECT study is forging ahead strongly.
Cancer Research Wales is also funding two other aspects of the team’s research. Firstly, work has begun analysing blood samples from patients with breast and lung cancers, with the aim of expanding the Raman Blood Test to incorporate the diagnosis of multiple cancers from a single patient blood sample. Secondly, the team are using a number of methods to understand how different factors, such as fasting and the gut bacteria, affect the results of the test, with the hope of further improving the accuracy.
This innovative and transformative blood test is hopefully approaching being available for real world use and at Cancer Research Wales we are very proud to have supported it from the very beginning.
Spreading the Word
Everything that Cancer Research Wales does relies on our supporters since we receive no government funding. Therefore, it is important that we spread the word about our work, to reach new audiences but also to make sure our current supporters can learn about the impact that their generosity is having.
This year, we were delighted to be able to attend the ‘Darganfod/Discover’ science festival in Wrexham. The festival was held over the weekend of 5-6th August and attracted hundreds of people who braved the rain to visit this enjoyable and educational event. It is safe to say that the Cancer Research Wales inflatable bowel was a real talking point, enjoyed by young and old alike. It was great to speak to so many people about the work of the charity and we look forward to attending this brilliant festival in future.
2023 has been a busy year for talks and presentations – we’ve had the pleasure of speaking to hundreds of people about our work and the impact that fundraising can have. Audiences have included Rotary clubs, Probus groups, sports clubs and more, and the reception we’ve received has been unfailingly excellent. We’re always on the look out for new people to speak to, so please get in touch if your club or group are interested in hearing more about Cancer Research Wales.
In November, we were lucky enough to have a very successful drop-in event at the Senedd Cymru. Making sure that key policymakers and politicians are aware of the issues in Wales and how our research is addressing them is very important, helping to ensure that patients can benefit from new innovations as quickly as possible. To that end, we were delighted to be able to speak to a number of Members of the Senedd and their staff, from across the political spectrum, about the research that we are funding and the difference that innovation can make, strengthening the case for increased support for cancer research in Wales.
Next Generation of Cancer Researchers
A thriving research community needs fresh ideas and new blood – training the next generation of researchers by funding PhD studentships has been core to Cancer Research Wales’ work for many years.
This year, three of our PhD students completed their studies – congratulations to Dr Carmen Velasco Martinez (Cardiff University), Dr Fay Antonopoulou (Bangor University) and Dr Darius McPhail (Cardiff University)!
Everyone here at Cancer Research Wales would like to say a massive thank you to our researchers and supporters, without whom none of our work would be possible. With the difficulties facing the NHS, it has never been more important to support innovations that can ease the burden of cancer.
We hope that you will continue to support us in whatever way you can. Together, we can change the narrative around cancer and ensure cancer patients in Wales have the best chance of a good outcome.
From all of us Cancer Research Wales, we wish you a very merry Christmas and happy, healthy 2024.