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First All-Ireland Cancer Network (AllCaN) launched on World Cancer Day

Today on World Cancer Day (February 4th), Irish cancer research charity Breakthrough Cancer Research (Breakthrough), has announced the establishment of the first All-Ireland Cancer Network, AllCaN, involving researchers from Queen's University.

Ireland and the UK have the highest incidence of oesophageal adenocarcinoma worldwide. This unique cross-border collaboration will enable the sharing of data and learnings for the first time.

Breakthrough Cancer Research has invested €1 million in oesophageal cancer research with the aim of significantly improving early detection and survival of the disease.

It was awarded to an all-Ireland network of the best minds in Ireland working in this area, led by Professor Jacintha O’Sullivan (Trinity St. James’s Cancer Institute, TSJCI), and co-led by Professor Helen Coleman (Queen’s University Belfast) and Professor Juliette Hussey (TSJCI).  The collaboration links six major academic institutions across the island of Ireland – Trinity College Dublin, Queen’s University Belfast, University College Cork, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, University College Dublin, and University of Galway – along with their associated hospitals, the National Cancer Control Programme and the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust.

They share decades of collective experience in oesophageal cancer and Barrett’s oesophagus (a significant risk factor for oesophageal cancer). People with Barrett’s oesophagus have biological changes in their food pipe (oesophagus) which puts them at a higher risk of developing oesophageal cancer. Therefore identification of, and improved treatments for people with oesophageal cancer and Barrett’s oesophagus, could significantly control the progression of the disease.

This unique cross-border collaboration of researchers across two health jurisdictions will enable for the first time the sharing of data from the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland Barrett’s oesophagus registries (over 34,000 patients) to answer important epidemiological studies using one of the largest platforms available worldwide for studying this disease.

With AllCaN, it will be possible to identify if potential inequalities exist across demographics, healthcare systems and patient outcomes and how lifestyle factors and medications influence reflux symptoms and progression. Lifestyle interventions will be tailored to reduce symptoms and improve quality of life (including mental health and wellbeing). The collaboration with industry will help ensure that discoveries that could help identify people at risk of progressing to oesophageal cancer or who will benefit from a particular treatment, progress quicker into the clinic.

At the launch of AllCaN at Queen’s University Belfast, Orla Dolan, CEO of Breakthrough Cancer Research, said: "AllCaN is a game changer for low survival cancer research on the island of Ireland. The inaugural project will bring everyone working on, or living with, oesophageal cancer in Ireland together to take on the key challenges, with the aim of doubling survival in 20 years. Ireland is leading the way in new innovations for this disease, but we are still only moving the needle by single digits. We need bold new ideas and significant investment to back them. This collaboration aims to generate actionable intelligence to reduce the number of people who develop oesophageal cancer and improve the treatment and survival of those who do."

She continued: "Research works, and over the last 50 years, we have seen huge progress delivered in overall survival. Today we have over 200,000 cancer survivors in the Republic of Ireland but unfortunately, less than 1% of them have survived an oesophageal cancer diagnosis. Research is not a luxury, it’s a necessity."

The AllCaN Grant Programme was created as part of Breakthrough’s new 5-year research strategy (Making More Survivors), to support and facilitate knowledge sharing between exemplary teams in institutions across the island of Ireland, who are taking on less survivable cancers. Successful awardees receive a €1 million investment that will see researchers, clinicians, patients, and industry work together to significantly improve Irish cancer survival rates.

The first of these AllCaN Grants will focus on oesophageal cancer, funding innovative research to improve early detection and outcomes for patients with, or at risk of, developing the disease.

Professor Helen Coleman, Lead of the Cancer Epidemiology Research Group at Queen’s University Belfast and Deputy Director of the Northern Ireland Cancer Registry, said: "This investment from Breakthrough Cancer Research represents an exciting and very necessary catalyst. The charity’s innovative vision will bring together world-class infrastructure, research teams and enable training of the next generation of researchers in oesophageal cancer prevention from institutions across the island of Ireland, for the first time.

"Given that the UK and Ireland have the highest incidence of oesophageal adenocarcinoma worldwide, we have genuine potential to identify new factors that could reduce the risk of oesophageal cancer for future generations and improve quality of life and wellbeing for thousands."

Breakthrough will invest €1 million into the Oesophageal AllCaN Programme grant (2023-2027) with additional collaborative funding and support coming from CROSS and the Oesophageal Cancer Fund.


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