“We can send a man to the moon, so why can’t we beat cancer?”
Just a few years ago, we at last reached the point where half of all people diagnosed with cancer could expect to survive it. Within 20 years, scientists hope that figure will rise even further to 3 in 4 people.
Reaching these milestones does not happen easily. It is the culmination of years of research by thousands of scientists around the world, working in fields as diverse as genetics, pharmacology and biochemistry – as well as medicine.
Much of this research takes place here in Manchester. In fact, cancer is one of The University of Manchester’s five main ‘research beacons’ – priority research areas in which we are world leaders – the others being industrial biotechnology, advanced materials, energy and addressing global inequalities.
Beyond the main university campus, we also have the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, situated over the road from the Christie Hospital in Withington, south Manchester. Their brand new £28.5 million building opened its doors last year, and is jointly funded by The University of Manchester, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and Cancer Research UK.
Cancer Research UK is the world’s largest independent cancer research charity, and funds and conducts research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Its work is almost entirely funded by donations from the public.
The Christie Hospital is one of Europe’s leading centres for cancer treatment and research, treating over 40,000 patients a year, and around 400 early phase clinical trials are taking place here at any one time. This makes The Christie an ideal next-door-neighbour for the new Cancer Research UK Institute.
Research in places like Manchester has vastly improved our knowledge of cancer and how we can treat it over the past decades. The discovery of epigenetics has shone a new light on the different ways this disease can arise, while genome sequencing has given us new and highly effective methods of diagnosis, allowing us to accurately tailor treatments to each individual’s needs.
There’s still such a long way to go however.
Cancer is not one disease nor one hundred diseases but many thousands, each unique and requiring a different response. Such a diverse assortment of diseases is only possible because the body itself is so diverse.
37 trillion cells, and 10,000,000 components per cell make the body 125 billion times more complicated than the Saturn Rockets that allowed humans to go to the Moon. It is only when we consider this staggering complexity that we can begin to appreciate the immense challenge we face in trying to treat the numerous different types of cancer.