Burnley cancer scientist calls for kick-start to vital research

Hayley JohnsonHayley Johnson
Hayley Johnson
A cancer scientist from Burnley, who lost her grandad to the disease, is calling on people across Lancashire to help tackle the devastating loss of funding for cancer research, caused by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Hayley Johnson – a scientific officer at Cancer Research UK’s Manchester Institute, part of the University of Manchester – is backing an urgent new appeal from Cancer Research UK for donations to help get life-saving work back on track.

Following the cancellation of fundraising events like Race for Life, the charity is expecting a staggering £160 million drop in income in the year ahead.

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As a result, Cancer Research UK has had to make the difficult decision to cut £44 million in research funding, but this is likely to be just the beginning.

Hayley, who is funded by Cancer Research UK, is helping to highlight the threat this poses to future breakthroughs for cancer patients in the North-West and across the UK.

The 23-year-old is part of a team at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute’s world-renowned Cancer Biomarker Centre who analyse blood samples from cancer patients to develop life-saving treatments.

Hayley said: “Whenever I’m working in the lab, the patients are at the forefront of my mind. Whether I’m analysing a blood sample or writing up results, I can’t help but think about the people who are being affected by cancer today, and that is a huge motivation for me in my work.

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“Every piece of research we do is bringing us one step closer to beating cancer. And with the impact of Covid-19 being keenly felt by people with the disease, it’s never been more important.”

Hayley also knows from personal experience why research into cancer is so vital. Her much-loved grandfather died from oesophageal cancer when she was only two years old – an experience which still motivates her today.

She said: “Although I was very young when my grandad passed away, he is still a big part of our lives and my family talk about him all the time. I like to think he’d be proud of the work I’m doing at Cancer Research UK and the contribution I’m making to life-saving research which will go on to help patients in the future.”

Hayley, who grew up in Ightenhill, attended Blessed Trinity College in Burnley and St Christopher’s High School in Accrington before going on to study Biology at the University of Nottingham, where she graduated with a first-class degree in 2019.

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In January this year, she joined the team of scientists who work on ground-breaking cancer discoveries at Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute’s laboratories, currently based at Alderley Park.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 forced her team to hang up their lab coats during lockdown, but they have been determined to carry on the fight against cancer from home, writing up results and planning new experiments.

Three months on, this vital work is slowly re-starting. But with new safety measures in place in the lab and complex experiments to recover, it could take months to get back up and running at full speed.

And now with more cuts likely to follow, Hayley is concerned about the heart-breaking fallout for patients.

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She said: “Research into cancer is facing a crisis where years and even decades worth of work could be lost in a matter of months. Every day and every pound counts, so I hope people across Lancashire will give what they can to help us keep making new discoveries.”

The issue is powerfully brought to life in a new TV appeal film. It shows a cancer patient on the verge of finding out whether her treatment has been successful, when the video pauses at the critical moment.

Commenting on the film Hayley said: “The message is clear, to save lives tomorrow Cancer Research UK needs the public’s support today.”

Cancer Research UK’s work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has been at the heart of progress that has seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.

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Thanks to the generosity of its supporters, the charity currently funds around 50% of all publicly funded cancer research in the UK.

Anna Taylor, Cancer Research UK spokesperson for Lancashire, said: “We’re incredibly grateful to Hayley for helping to underline the stark reality of the current situation.

“With over 40,000 people diagnosed with cancer every year in the North West*, we will never stop striving to create new and better treatments. But we can’t do it alone.

“Whether they donate, sign up to Race for Life at Home or shop at our recently re-opened stores - with the help of people in Lancashire scientists like Hayley will be able to continue the work they do, and together we will still beat cancer.”

Cancer Research UK was able to spend over £30 million in the North-West last year on some of the UK’s leading scientific and clinical research.

Donate now at cruk.org/give