Research Centre Visit 5th November 2013


Paula

Maggie

Sue

Jane

I’m so privileged to be part of “Boobs & Brass” - I mean, I am having a great time, doing something I love and at the same time raising lots of money for Breast Cancer Campaign, what can I say, just fabulous!
Breast Cancer Campaign is a charity close to my heart, with my mum losing her battle with Breast Cancer at a young age of 41 and both of my sisters being diagnosed in the last 12 years. Thankfully, both of them have made a good recovery and are still in remission, experiencing the benefits of the knowledge we have today compared to 44 years ago.  This knowledge has come about through years of research, which we all know is where a large proportion of money raised and donated goes towards.  Although there is a good understanding of the concept of research, I wonder how many of us actually really appreciate what it involves? To me, in my everyday busy life, it’s something that I know happens but is carried out by very clever scientists. Is this the simplistic view I would always have I wonder?
Back in October, Breast Cancer Campaign had contacted Maggie and Jane and asked if they would like to go to Nottingham University Hospital to see some of the research that is being done there; this invitation was then extended to Sue Herbert and myself.  The researcher we were to meet was Dr Stewart Martin who was a member of the BCC  2013 Gap Analysis. He was also  a member of BCC`s scientific advisory board for over three years and has held several grants with Campaign, including one current one where he is looking at new treatments for breast cancer, particular new chemotherapy drugs that could be used in combination with radiotherapy.

So, on 5th November, Jane, Alan, Maggie, Keith, Sue and I set off, destination Nottingham University Hospital for our 14:00hrs appointment with Dr Stewart Martin. Very grand you would think? Not for poor Maggie and Jane who ended up sitting, in what I would call the dog space of the car - they did have proper seats though! You can guess the comments from Alan and Keith, but let’s not go there.
It was a pretty grim journey, nothing to do with Keith’s driving I may add, just the rain and the usual idiots on the motorway. We made it in good time though and it began to dawn on me why Sue and I had been invited. I think there was this idea that given Sue’s background in pharmaceuticals and mine as a nurse in healthcare for years, we might just actually understand what we were about to see and hear! Mmmmm!!!!!!  well only time would tell.
We were met with such a warm welcome, and a much needed cuppa and biscuits.  Colin Norford who is the Head of Events and Fundraising at BCC  had travelled from London to meet us – Jane and Maggie have worked very closely with Colin  during the last seven years. After some formal introductions, it quickly became apparent that Dr. Stewart Martin  is very passionate about his work and has great optimism for the future treatment of this horrible disease. He delivered his presentation, about the work being undertaken and I have to say some of it did go right over my head but think I managed to at least look like I understood what was being said. After this, we had an opportunity to see the laboratories where the study and research takes place, absolutely fascinating I have to say, especially  to discover  that just one essential piece of equipment alone actually cost £250,000. It was particularly entertaining, watching Keith trying  to get his great big hands into some latex gloves which we were required to wear before we got to look at some live tissue samples under the microscope!  The majority of Dr. Martin`s students are females with small hands but fortunately someone  managed to find a box of gloves that were a much larger size.
We couldn’t help but be excited and enthusiastic about what this man and his team are accomplishing. There was just so much to take in, new things to lean. How could I possibly begin to summarise what I had experienced and what the key messageswere to take away?
Breast Cancer is such a diverse disease consisting of distinct types, all of which respond differently to different treatments. Of these types, two (triple negative and Basal-like cancers) are more aggressive in their behaviour and are more likely to spread and not respond to more conventional treatments such as Tamoxifen. They affect up to 8,000 women each year in the UK alone. Dr Martin’s research team has been investigating levels of Proteins known as Calpains in breast tumours. The levels of these in different patients that are studied can help understand why some types are more resistant to treatment than others. His new findings will help improve the ability to predict survival for patients and be the first step to helping doctors personalise treatments and improve the outcome for patients. I may not be a clever scientist, but I can now fully appreciate and understand so much more about the significance of research, more importantly the people such as Dr Martin and his team for their continued dedication and commitment to their work. To hear him say that he is confident that they will eventually get to a stage where Breast Cancer will no longer be anything to fear, but that it will become an everyday chronic manageable condition like diabetes was just amazing.
At the end of the day we had chance to talk a little about Boobs & Brass and what they have achieved so far. Dr Martin’s interest appeared just as passionate for what we do to raise money as for his research, acknowledging that contributions like ours make his work possible.
Whilst a lot of the technical terms and illustrations went way over our heads, we all came away feeling inspired and very reassured that what Dr. Stewart Martin and his team, together with many other researchers and scientists, are doing is so very important and does, undoubtedly,  benefit everybody who will encounter breast cancer. But not only that, even if the research that has been done,  results in it not helping breast cancer sufferers, it can help the researchers working on such cancers as ovarian,  pancreatic and many others.  All the findings from research projects are stored on a national system and can be accessed by other teams, so every bit of research is valuable.
On behalf of the group, I would like to thank Colin for arranging this very interesting opportunity and also Dr.  Stewart Martin for what he is doing and for spending so much of his valuable time with us and for giving us an insight into what is being done to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
Paula Nicholson