Sheffield centre offers cutting-edge treatments to cancer patients

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The Cancer Clinical Trials Centre in Sheffield is running more pioneering trials than ever before, for the benefit of cancer patients now and in the future.

The centre, which employs more than 70 staff working on over 200 clinical trials at any one time, plays a critical role in the development of cancer treatment and enables Sheffield to remain a leading centre for clinical research into cancer.

Working in collaboration with the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity is proud to continue investing funds into the centre, enabling more patients to be offered innovative treatments and increasing the chances of survival for people fighting cancer across the region.Currently 1 in 5 cancer patients participate in a clinical trial compared to only 1 in 25 in the year 2000, and with sustained investment and continued support, the centre hopes to sustain and increase this level of recruitment in the coming years.

The Cancer Clinical Trials Centre or as it was then known, The Cancer Research Centre, was opened in 1999 by the Duchess of Gloucester when an initial need for a research team specialising in clinical trials research for patients in Sheffield was identified.

Since then, the unit has grown substantially in response to the increase in cancer incidence and to support the multi-channelled and often complex journey of a cancer patient from initial diagnosis right up until after care.

Funding from the cancer charity over the years has enabled the rapid growth of the research teams within Sheffield and secured the ‘very best’ academic talent here in our region.

The team at the centre, comprising research nurses, radiographers, data managers, laboratory technicians and administrative staff, work tirelessly each day to underpin and manage the vast and intricate work contributing to the overarching goal; to achieve the best outcomes for those fighting cancer.

Centre Manager, Wendy Wilson said, “The Cancer Clinical Trials Centre is a significant facility here in Sheffield and enables ground-breaking research into all cancer types.”

“Over the years, we are incredibly proud to have been involved in, and delivered, some important ‘first in patient’ trials, and invested in early stage research projects which have ultimately transformed the way certain cancers are treated across the world.”

“It’s extremely important for us to attract and retain high quality researchers and oncologists at the centre so that Sheffield can keep flying the flag high to ensure our patients receive the highest standard of treatment and care.”

Last year, 1402 patients across the Sheffield cancer network were recruited to a clinical trial and investments were made into many projects including surgery, bone oncology, drug development and improving radiotherapy treatments.

As well as investing in new researchers, existing staff at the centre have continued to contribute to international and national groups and committees to play an active and essential role in the fight against cancer worldwide.

Professor Rob Coleman, who has played an integral part in the development and growth of the Cancer Clinical Trials Centre since 1992, was awarded the prestigious International Advanced Breast Cancer (ABC) award in November in recognition of his outstanding contribution to work into metastatic breast cancer throughout his career.

Lead Research Nurse, Alison Clarke said, “The Cancer Clinical Centre is a multifaceted unit with staff operating at different levels to ensure that the patient experience is as comfortable and streamlined as possible.”

“Typically, patients will be identified and assessed by the medical/research nursing team to see if they are eligible to enter a clinical study. They will also have a discussion with a member of the research team to ensure full written consent is given. Patients will always have a choice as to whether to take part in a study or not.

This will all be determined before their treatment even begins. Patients identified for a drug study will then undergo treatment on the specialised Clinical Research Unit where the trained chemotherapy staff become involved. Patients will also be identified for surgical or radiotherapy studies. Each independent team works collaboratively alongside each other to ensure that patient comfort and understanding remains paramount at all times.”

“We rely on funding each year from Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity to expand and improve the way research is delivered, not only at Weston Park Hospital, but throughout the region.”

“Without this support, the Centre would simply not have achieved the successes it has over the last 20 years and cancer patients would not have been offered the wide variety of treatment options that are available today.”

“Research undertaken at the Centre ultimately saves lives and the more research we can do, the more families in our region can stay together for longer.”

Half of all people born since 1960 will be affected by cancer in their life time and every day, at least 30 people in our region are diagnosed with cancer.

Many patients continue to benefit from the clinical trials offering at Weston Park Hospital - patients like Janet Blackburn.

Janet Blackburn (60) was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and just 2 weeks later her husband, Robin was diagnosed cancer of the oesophagus.

Janet underwent a mastectomy, had her lymph nodes removed and received chemotherapy at Weston Park Hospital and was responding well to treatment. Sadly, her husband wasn’t as lucky and he lost his fight with cancer in 2011 whilst both were receiving treatment simultaneously.

In March 2011, Janet was offered the opportunity to take part in a clinical trial called the D-CARE Study, which involved her undergoing six sessions of chemotherapy followed by check-ups at the hospital every three months. D-CARE is a trial in women with breast cancer looking to see if a drug called Denosumab, which is normally used to strengthen and protect the bones from weakening due to osteoporosis or damage from cancers that have spread to the bones, can also help prevent breast cancer from spreading in the first place.

Research Nurse at the Cancer Clinical Trials Centre, Sarah Brown said, “Janet was one of the first patients to sign up to the D-Care study and is still being followed up by the study 6 years after her diagnosis. Through studies such as D-Care we are able to find new treatments to more efficiently treat cancer. We are so grateful to Janet and the other patients who sign up to these studies, not only do they often receive new cutting edge medicines first, they also help to improve quality of care and treatment for future patients. Meeting patients like Janet is the best part of my job. ”

“My role on a daily basis is extremely varied and as well as looking after the day to day running of the research projects - looking after patients receiving treatment in Weston Park Hospital, I am also looking to identify and recruit patients who are eligible for our current studies.”

“Many of the patients on a clinical trial spend time on the new treatment suite at Weston Park Hospital which was built on the site of an old decommissioned radio-pharmacy unit. It was built thanks to funding from Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity, Yorkshire Cancer Research and Westfield Health and is designed to facilitate treatments and provide a better service, both for now and into the future.”

“The environment is welcoming, bright and spacious, meaning patients can feel comfortable during often long and tiring treatment sessions.

Since diagnosis and whilst still receiving treatment, mother and grandmother, Janet has gone on to raise a staggering £18,000 for Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity through various fundraising initiatives and now holds a craft stall every month in the hospital’s main reception area.

Janet said, “The staff at Weston Park Hospital and in particular at the Cancer Clinical Trials Centre have saved my life. Every penny I raise for the cancer charity is a huge thank you from me and a hope that one day I can raise funds to give cancer patients the treatment options that I had.”

International Clinical Trials Day commemorates the day that James Lind started the first recognised clinical trial, which was to look at the deadly disease scurvy. His trial consisted of 12 men with scurvy, grouped into pairs and given a variety of dietary supplements from cider to oranges and lemons. After six days, there was a noticeable improvement in the group eating fruit, providing evidence of the link between citrus fruits and scurvy. Clinical trials have developed a great deal since Lind’s discovery and are a vital importance in medical research.

To see the full list of current clinical trials running at the centre Click here

To mark Cancer Clinical Trials Day the cancer charity is encouraging supporters to give a £10 donation to enable the continued funding of a Research Nurse Post within this specialised centre in Sheffield. Donations can be made by completing the below donation form or online Click here

To find out more about the Cancer Clinical Trials Centre Click here