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Queen’s All-Island cancer initiative showcased at Science Summit at 78th UN General Assembly

Landmark research led by Professor Mark Lawler from Queen’s University was showcased at the Science Summit taking place as part of the 78th United Nations General Assembly on 13th September 2023.

Led by University College Dublin (UCD), the event brought together international experts to discuss the important role of research and collaboration in attaining the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and to examine how the island of Ireland is contributing to these global objectives. 

Professor Lawler presented “The Legacy of the Good Friday Agreement: Cancer Knows No Borders” as part of the session on ‘Health Collaboration in a Post Conflict Era’ to highlight the health dividend of peace as a global example of what health diplomacy can achieve, in research recently published in the European Journal of Cancer.  

The study shows how the Belfast Good Friday Agreement enhanced cancer research and care on the island of Ireland, saving thousands of lives. Between 1998-2021, it found there was a 13-fold increase in the number of research papers published jointly between cancer researchers in Ireland and Northern Ireland.  

It also highlighted there was a 45-fold increase in research papers involving collaboration between Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United States (US). 

Professor Lawler and his team developed a quality index score which showed a 5.5-fold increase in the quality of joint papers published by cancer researchers from Ireland and Northern Ireland between 1998 and 2017. 

This significant increase in quality and quantity of cancer research was due to the success that was achieved through the Ireland - Northern Ireland – US National Cancer Institute Cancer Consortium, a unique partnership established in 1999, between the governments of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the US, as a direct result of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. 

The Consortium enabled over 30,000 cancer patients to be enrolled in clinical trials, gaining access to the latest cancer treatments and therapies, with thousands of lives saved as a result. Over 550 cancer professionals have also been specially trained to diagnose and treat cancer and perform high quality research and innovation. 

Outcomes for breast cancer in Northern Ireland went from being the worst in the UK, to the best, in less than two decades. Similar improvements in oesophageal cancer outcomes on both sides of the border are testament to the transformative effect that the Consortium delivered for cancer services across the island of Ireland. 

Professor Lawler, Lead Author of the study, Professor of Digital Health at Queen’s and Co-Lead of the All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI), said: “We have shown through this research how our unique partnership between Ireland, Northern Ireland and the US National Cancer Institute has been truly transformative, saving thousands of lives. Going forward, working together through the All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI), which brings together leading cancer researchers from the island of Ireland, can deliver the research required to ensure better outcomes for cancer patients North and South.” 

Commenting on the research, U.S. Special Envoy for Northern Ireland, Joseph Kennedy III said: “I called out this work at the BIO International Convention in Boston. It demonstrates how a transatlantic partnership, fostered by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, can drive a research and innovation agenda that delivers tangible benefits for people and societies on the island of Ireland. The potential health benefits for Northern Ireland and indeed the island of Ireland are huge.” 

Triona McCormack, Director of Research at University College Dublin (UCD) said: “Partnerships such as AICRI, co-led by researchers from UCD and Queen’s demonstrates the positive impacts to patients and citizens resulting from research cooperation between stakeholders across the island of Ireland, together with international partners. In particular, this Consortium highlights the clear benefits of constructive collaboration in cancer care and research arising post the Good Friday Agreement, through the co-development of solutions to shared challenges.” 

Speaking at the Summit, Professor Lawler added: “I’m delighted to be presenting this work at the Science Summit of the UN General Assembly, emphasising its global impact. Bringing together the best minds on the island of Ireland, together with our prestigious American partners, is exactly what we need to address one of the greatest challenges in human health. Working together, we can be unbeatable. Cancer knows no borders – so why should we?” 

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Photo: Professor Mark Lawler

Professor Mark Lawler

The Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research

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