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Review: National Cancer Research Institute Conference 2016

Lisa Whittaker NCRI

In November 2016, our Research Officer Lisa Whittaker attended her first National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) conference in Liverpool. Here's what she learnt and how she got on...

The annual NCRI Cancer Conference started in 2005 to provide a forum for researchers from different disciplines to exchange knowledge and ideas. It is the main annual cancer research meeting in the UK and attracts around 2,000 delegates each year. The conference gives researchers the opportunity to keep up to date with new advances around the world and the chance to share their work amongst peers.

I was fortunate enough to attend the conference with eCancer, the leading oncology channel committed to improving cancer communication and education. I was working with the press team and as well as Tweeting from the talks I attended, I also interviewed researchers and science writers for eCancertv. It was an excellent opportunity to learn more about their research and the key messages they were sharing at the conference.

My interviews began with Dr Sheila Singh from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. Dr Singh had given a talk about the pathways through which cancer stem cells drive tumourigenesis and subvert treatments, in the specific setting of medulloblastoma. Medulloblastoma is the most common type of malignant primary brain tumour in children. I was interested to find out more about the motivations behind Dr Singh’s research.

It was while Dr. Singh was in medical school that two little boys with brain tumours—both named Christopher—sowed the first seeds of her interest in research. Both were five years old and treated with the best current therapies. One flourished. The other died. Dr Singh explained that the boy who died left her a legacy of questions. Why should two small boys with the same disease fare so differently? What is different about each individual’s tumour? Dr Singh now spends her life looking for the molecular and genetic answers to these questions.

I also attended a symposium chaired by Prof Linda Bauld from University of Stirling about population level interventions to change policies and environments to reduce the incidence of cancer. We know at least one-third of all cancer cases are preventable. Prevention offers the most cost-effective long-term strategy for the control of cancer. As she described in her interview the speakers in Linda’s symposium focussed on tobacco smoking and cancer development, alongside other lifestyle risk factors such as heavy alcohol consumption, poor diet and low physical activity. The session was very well attended with many people interested in cancer prevention. This is also something we also focus on at Tenovus Cancer Care - we run several campaigns throughout the year Quit with Us smoking cessation campaigns, sun safety campaigns and health checks.

As my role is in science communication I was really pleased to interview Dr Kat Arney, a freelance science broadcaster, especially following her talk on the first day of the conference. Kat discussed how media portrayal of the causes and treatments of cancer can influence public perception of cancer research. She described the need for matched media awareness in academia and realistic portrayals of research in public spheres, with narrative opportunities in fiction and nonfiction programming. We place a great deal importance on sharing the vital cancer research we fund but also in evidence-based policies.

As someone who has only been working in this field for a year, the NCRI conference was a great opportunity to meet and learn from leading experts. It also gave me the chance to see the difference that NCRI partners, including Tenovus Cancer Care, make to the field of cancer research.

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