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Irish Cancer Society puts focus on research in fight against cancer

The new Head of Research for the Irish Cancer Society, Professor John Fitzpatrick, has said that he will be doing all he can to raise funds to increase cancer research in Ireland.

Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
Image: The Irish Cancer Society holds Daffodil Day every year to raise funds

THE IRISH CANCER Society has appointed a new Head of Research, Professor John Fitzpatrick.

“It feels good. It is rather different to what I was doing,” said a delighted Prof Fitzpatrick, who was Professor of Surgery and Consultant Urologist at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital and University College Dublin since 1986.

In his role as Head of Research, Prof Fitzpatrick will be responsible for developing a strategic plan for cancer research and will co-ordinate research efforts throughout Ireland.

He will do this while encouraging collaboration through mechanisms such as the Cancer Research UK model of cancer centres.

“Cancer is a major cause of death and disease in this country with cancer rates expected to rise from 30,000 new cases diagnosed annually to 40,000 by 2020,” said Prof Fitzpatrick, who added that the quality of cancer care is dependent on the quality of cancer research.

Our vision is to establish a Cancer Research Centre similar to the existing model in Belfast, where such a centre allows clinical activity and research endeavours to co-exist in the same building on a hospital campus. It also houses a drug trials unit with the result that the ‘bench to bedside’ concept is easier to achieve.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, he said:

Why do we need research? Research is extremely important in the overall management of patients in Ireland because the presence of a research output actually improves the management of patients. If you take a department which is dedicated to the treatment of cancer and they have nothing to do with research, and if you compare it to a department that has research, you will see that the research will raise the standard in that department.

Prof Fitzpatrick said he and the ICS recognise that there is a substantial cost associated with developing a cancer research centre of this quality.

Therefore, in the interim, our intention is to develop virtual cancer research centres as a method to deliver funding to already established cancer research units with a collaborative emphasis.

The Irish Cancer Society has provided significant funding of almost €30 million to cancer research in Ireland over the past 50 years.

We also recognise that if we are to maintain the €3.1 million investment made in research in 2011 and increase this funding for cancer research this year, we will need even more voluntary contributions from the public which can be dedicated to research and improving the overall health of the nation.

Prof Fitzpatrick said he is very conscious of the fact that people are having financial difficulties.

In the Irish Cancer Society, a huge amount of what we get, a major percentage is donations of €10 or less. Any donation is gratefully received.

He pointed out that Cancer Research UK has had their budget cut in the past year.

Prof Fitzpatrick is aiming to receive funding from donors based abroad, be they individuals or companies. “This is going to involve quite a bit of work to get it going but we still need people to donate.”

Prof Fitzpatrick said that in some cases patients that have been treated for cancer have consented to samples of their tissue to be given to a bio-bank to be used during research.

“People have this preconceived notion that research is carried out by older people in laboratories looking over a Bunsen burner,” he said. “But in the main it is young, highly intelligent, vibrant people heading out in their careers and they are very interested in making a contribution.”

Are they making a contribution? Yes. Research is presented at many meetings around the world. This is not just stuff that has no importance. They are doing it in Ireland, not outside Ireland.
There are a whole load of things here when contributing to cancer research that we are contributing to. Irish cancer research is not just nodding gently to research done in America yesterday, let’s follow that. Not at all – this is world-breaking stuff.

As part of this focus on cancer research, Prof Fitzpatrick said he hopes to see more collaboration, such as with the Prostate Cancer Research Consortium.

It involved collaboration between research departments in UCD, Trinity, DCU and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. All of this meant that there wasn’t a reduplication of projects. It involved no need for reduplication of funding and also it involved a dialogue between these institutions.

John McCormack, CEO, the Irish Cancer Society said: “Appointing Professor Fitzpatrick as our new Head of Research is a major step forward for us in the fight against cancer.”

Read: Irish scientists make ‘important discovery’ on lung cancer>

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