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Steve is a Professor and Chair of Molecular Paediatric Oncology, and the Director of Newcastle University Centre for Cancer. We had the pleasure of interviewing Steve, learning about his 31 years of experience in cancer research, the fundamental work undertaken at Newcastle University, and how your fundraising efforts have allowed Children’s Cancer North to fund their pioneering research.

What is your area of research/focus?


My main area of research focuses on medulloblastoma which is one of the most common children’s brain tumours. My main interests are in understanding its biology and using these discoveries to develop better treatments.

Tell us about your work in Newcastle and any key partnerships you have


Here at Newcastle University we undertake research into numerous childhood cancers. This includes research into brain tumours, leukaemia, lymphoma and neuroblastoma, as well as having dedicated programmes in paediatric pharmacology and early phase clinical trials.

One of the key focuses of our work is understanding the way in which medulloblastomas develop. We use that information to develop better therapies, diagnostics, predictions as to how the disease might behave, and how to tailor therapy specifically to each medulloblastoma patient.

In Newcastle, we run the National Diagnostics Centre for Medulloblastoma, which allows us to apply state of the art genetic testing developed by our programme to all UK medulloblastoma patients, in conjunction with the NHS. This information can then be used in order to direct patients to the best trial and the best treatment.

Thankfully, childhood cancers are rare, so we work right across the UK, Europe and internationally to develop the research that we need to undertake clinical trials to get new treatment approaches into the clinic.

We work with SIOP-Europe – the International Society for Paediatric Oncology – the group that runs clinical trials across Europe, and our team leads medulloblastoma trials on their behalf. We also work closely with ITCC (Innovative Therapies for Children with Cancer) – they are the cross European group developing new drugs for children’s cancer.

In the UK, our main partners include the NHS, CCLG (Children’s Cancer Leukaemia Group) and the NCRI (National Cancer Research Institute) – the latter two look after trials and clinical practice in the UK, interlinked with the work undertaken across Europe. As well as running trials, we also write treatment guidelines for all UK patients, which are based on clinical and research findings made by the Newcastle team.

Why did you get in to researching childhood cancer?


I started off with a fascination with the biological sciences through my school years, ultimately taking a degree specialising in aspects of medical biology. This led me to a PhD in cancer research at Newcastle University in 1991, and from that I knew I wanted to develop a career as a cancer researcher. After this, I moved away to do my postdoctoral training at Cambridge and Oxford Universities. In 2000, I came back to Newcastle when the exciting opportunity arose to start the Newcastle Paediatric Brain Tumour Group.

What hopes do you have for the future of cancer treatment?


In the early 1970’s, 20-25% of children would survive cancer, whereas today due to research and clinical advances, the survival rate stands at 80%. We now want to capitalise on this progress by developing kinder and less intensive treatments for children with cancer, as well as finding new approaches for the most difficult-to-cure patient groups. I want to find the best possible treatment for every child with cancer. Through our work and our partners, we can realistically look to reduce therapy intensity and side effects of treatment for significant numbers of patients in the coming years. Alongside this, we want to understand more about the most challenging cancers, so that we can develop new therapies which improve the chances of survival.

What does being funded by Children’s Cancer North mean to you?


Children’s Cancer North have been at the heart of developing childhood cancer research at Newcastle over the last 40 years. The important work we do in the lab and the clinic is a result of our direct partnership, we’ve grown up together really. Children’s Cancer North provides us with an annual core grant of almost half a million pounds, which underpins all our research into childhood cancer at Newcastle University and the Great North Children’s Hospital. A big thank you to Children’s Cancer North for all that your charity and fundraisers do for us!

What do you do outside of work?


I’m very fortunate that my work is also a passion, meaning home and work life are highly interrelated. I live in a house of four women and am a proud dad of our three girls. I love spending time with my family and enjoying outdoor pursuits. I also love most types of music that can range from jazz vocalists through to a bit of heavy metal!

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