Cambridge scientists to race for life

A Cambridge scientist and her colleagues are urging people to back life-saving research and sign up for Race for Life.

Dr Shalini Rao and her colleagues from Professor Jason Carroll’s lab at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute will swap lab coats for running kits on Sunday June 30, when they join supporters on the start line at the Race for Life event at Jesus Green, Victoria Avenue, Cambridge.  

Dr Rao – a Senior Research Associate at the Institute – has run Race for Life four times, but it will be the second consecutive year the Carroll lab researchers have taken part as a team. 

Inspired by a close family member’s battle with breast cancer, Dr Rao’s journey into cancer research is not only professional but deeply personal. This experience, she says, has fuelled her interest to make a difference in the lives of those affected by this disease – driving her research to find innovative approaches for early detection.

Every year around 37,400people are diagnosed with cancer in the East of England.

Money raised at Race for Life enables scientists to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer – moving closer to a world where everyone can live longer, better lives free from the fear of the disease.  

The Race for Life events  in Cambridge are open to all ages and abilities. People can choose from 5k and 10k events. 

Dr Rao hopes the work of her colleagues in the city will inspire people to raise funds. Her research focuses on understanding causes of tumour growth in early pancreatic cancer, with the mission of improving the outcome for patients with this disease.

Dr Rao explained: “Unlike for other cancers, there are currently no screening programmes or tests for pancreatic cancer to help doctors distinguish between people with minor health issues and someone who should be urgently referred to hospital for a scan.” 

She hopes the findings from her project could pave the way to develop new biomarkers that would help to detect the disease at an early stage when it is most treatable.

Her work will study how proteins interact with each other in pancreatic cancer, with particular focus on transcription factors. These factors are known to drive cancer growth and help it spread but they’ve never been mapped in this way before. 

It's an approach that has seen advances for other cancers like breast cancer, which led to clinical trials of new treatments that aim to block this process. 

Dr Rao – who has a PhD from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine – added: “I’d like to thank everyone across Cambridgeshire who supports Race for Life.

“Vital work is underway to prevent, diagnose and treat more than 200 types of cancer. The funds raised already help people living with cancer every single day and will make a difference for future generations.” 

Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, in partnership with headline sponsor Standard Life, part of Phoenix Group, raises millions of pounds every year across the UK to help beat cancer by funding crucial research.  

Last year, Cancer Research UK spent around £46 million on research in Cambridge aimed at developing new and kinder ways to tackle cancer. And over the decades, the charity’s researchers in the city haveaddressed some of the disease’s biggest challenges.

An international collaboration headed by scientists from East Anglia in the early 1990s helped pinpoint the BRCA1 gene. When faulty, this gene raises the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as other cancer types. A year later, scientists in Cambridge tracked down the BRCA2 gene which is also responsible for some inherited cancers. Women can now take steps to reduce their risk of breast and ovarian cancer. 

Shelley Baxter, Cancer Research UK’s spokesperson in Cambridge, said: “We are grateful to Dr Rao and her colleagues in Cambridge for their support. 

“No matter how cancer affects us, life is worth racing for. Sadly nearly 1 in 2 of us will get cancer in our lifetime. Race for Life has the power not only to transform lives, but to save them. We’re proud that Race for Life has already helped double survival rates in the UK.  

“We’d love for as many people as possible across East Anglia and beyond to join us at Race for Life. It’s a fun and achievable challenge for everyone and we mean everyone. Walk, jog, run or take on the course however it suits best. It’s a chance to feel the power of moving together with fellow Race for Lifers and have fun with it.   

“Whether people are living with cancer, taking part in honour of or in memory of a loved one with cancer, in it for the medals or just for the fun of fundraising, there is a place for everyone.” 

Since it began in 1994, more than 10 million people have taken part in Race for Life, funding 30 years of hope and progress. Money raised has helped develop radiotherapy which benefits more than 130,000 people with cancer in the UK every year.

Cancer Research UK funded scientists led the development of the Human Papillomavirus Virus vaccine, which is expected to prevent almost 90 per cent of cervical cancers in the UK. The charity also funded many large clinical trials looking at the effectiveness of the drug tamoxifen and the research shaped the way the drug is used to treat breast cancer today.   

Andy Curran, Chief Executive of Standard Life, part of Phoenix Group, said: “We are incredibly proud to continue as headline sponsor for Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life, with the opportunity to encourage participation across the country. 

“By working to raise funds for life-saving research, we can move towards a future where people live longer and healthier lives, free of cancer.”  

To enter,      

2 May 2024