Director’s Update – December 2020

Professor Robert Bristow, Director of the Manchester Cancer Research Centre, looking at the camera

Hello everyone, this will be the final update of 2020 before, what I hope will be, a long and much deserved break for everyone. We’re all very much looking forward to taking a few weeks off in order to come back refreshed and ready for 2021 to incorporate vaccination into further acceleration of our research after 2020’s pandemic.


I first wish to extend my congratulations to Professor Caroline Dive, who from January 1st will become the Interim Director of the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute following Professor Richard Marais announcing he was stepping down from the position earlier this year. We will be celebrating Richard’s international scientific impact at the CRUK MI in a mid-2021 symposium. Caroline is an incredible leader and world-renowned scientist, having been Deputy Director for the CRUK MI  for the past nine years as well as Director of the CRUK MI Cancer Biomarker Centre since its inception. Congratulations Caroline, and we look forward to continuing our close and collaborative work with the Institute over the coming years.


In many ways, 2020 has been one of the most challenging years we have ever experienced. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on our research activities, the availability of research funding, and has placed an incredible burden on the National Health Service. But nine months after the initial lockdown, research is continuing at pace, cancer services are open, and we should all again be thankful for the extraordinary work everyone has put in to get us to this situation.


However, in some ways 2020 has been a year like many others. We have secured several high-profile opportunities to further our research activities such as our involvement in three Cancer Research UK Accelerator Awards. We have demonstrated how our research should be implemented into clinical practice such as through Professor Emma Crosbie’s new NICE Guidelines for the detection of Lynch Syndrome, and continued our important precision medicine  trials in our Trusts to save the lives of those affected by cancer.


Moreover, the pandemic has actually acted as an enabler of new possibilities that have positively disrupted how we work. I would argue the greatest impact has been our increased innovation and adoption of state of the art digital technologies in outcomes and clinical trials research. Not only are we now able to engage with colleagues more easily, but it has never been easier to engage with colleagues on the other side of the world.


Throughout this year, we have hosted international workshops in big data, immunology, early detection, clinical trials and uplifted our internationalisation with collaborations in Toronto, Melbourne and Nairobi. Just this month, Professor Fiona Thistlethwaite hosted a Trans-Atlantic workshop to explore collaborations in immuno-oncology with the University of Toronto, and Dr Colin Lindsay hosted a two-day international RAS Workshop to explore developments in precision medicine of the RAS mutation. Technology has enabled them both, and these are just two examples of how we are adapting our approach to include the tools available to us to drive research innovation.


Looking ahead to 2021, I am thoroughly excited about the many opportunities ahead of us. In January 2021, the University of Manchester will officially launch the Christabel Pankhurst Institute of Health Technology, a new research institution focused on health technology, and I am excited to see the research collaborations that we can develop in advanced materials and digital approaches to machine learning around complex patient data.


In addition, on the 27th of January, we are also hosting the first of what we hope will be a series of Cancer Research UK Manchester Centre workshops. The first session will be to celebrate our incredible research successes since we were awarded major centre status and to look to our future strengths and international impact. You can register for the showcase using Eventbrite.


Finally, I’d like to welcome a new colleague to the MCRC Strategic Team. Dr Sinéad Savage joined our team at the start of December as Strategic Research and Partnerships Manager, following her time working in the Nanomedicine Lab. Sinéad will be instrumental in the planning and delivery of the many research grants and opportunities that are coming in 2021 and beyond. You can read more about Sinéad and her experience in our Meet the MCRC Team biography.


In a final round-up:


In closing, I once again thank you all for the efforts everyone has put in over the course of the past year. 2020 has been a difficult year for us all, but I want to thank everyone for the professionalism, time, effort and energy they have applied to their work throughout this difficult year. I hope everyone stays safe and has a restful break over this holiday period and comes back feeling refreshed and ready for 2021