CRUK Therapeutic Discovery Lab adjusts to lockdown

Jo Brookfield holding hand sanitiser, and Mat Calder
Cancer researcher Jo Brookfield talks about life in the lab during lockdown…
BBC Look East reporter Richard Westcott interviews CRUK researchers about the impact of COVID-19 on their research...

While most of the country has been in lockdown for over two months, Cancer Research UK scientists from the Therapeutic Discovery Laboratories in Cambridge, have overcome major obstacles to continue their life-saving work.

Over 70 researchers working on developing new cancer treatments came together during the pandemic crisis to form a plan to ensure their vital lab work could continue and prevent critical research being ruined or stopped because of coronavirus.

Jo explains: “As scientists for Cancer Research UK, the Therapeutic Discovery Labs based in Cambridge made the decision to continue to work in the lab during the pandemic.

"Initially for many of us this felt like a difficult decision, one that many of us had no idea how we were going to make work. Many of our friends and family (excepting key workers) are working from home or furloughed, and many of our fellow scientists have moved into the crucial research around COVID or into helping out with the testing effort.

"Initially it felt strange to keep our focus on cancer.

“With challenges from getting enough of our normal consumables, problems with supply chains and deliveries, to who is teaching the kids today, the challenges continue to change, mutate and grow as this crisis continues to batter the world. My colleagues, always inventive problem solvers, have consistently surprised me with their resilience and ingenuity to find new ways to overcome these obstacles. 

“We have had chemists making alcohol cleaning sprays and hand sanitiser (this has also been offered to local NHS centres if they require it) and we have complex rotas to ensure that the level of scientists in the labs keeps research going whilst maintaining social distancing and also allowing for first aid, spill team and fire warden cover.

“Having worked alongside fantastic scientists for years it is not the ingenuity that has surprised me the most, but the way we have pulled together to work as a team. The virus has left us with staff shortages in areas such as lab support, this has meant that our head of chemistry, now known as, ‘mystery house elf’ has been accepting deliveries and helping to re-stock the store room.

"We have people working from home supporting those in the lab any way that they can, organising shipments and checking that deliveries can be made. We have colleagues listening, caring and sharing their struggles, which are different for each of us, and supporting each other in the best way possible.

“What I love to see most is that although everyone here is affected in completely different ways, whether stuck in shared houses with no space to work, or trying to care for their children whilst holding a conversation about what assay we need to run next, or struggling to stay grounded through the anxiety of it all, everyone has found their part to play in keeping research into cancer treatments going, and we are doing it together.

"Whilst coronavirus may be at the forefront of all of our minds, cancer is still killing as many people as it was, and our job is still a very important one. I feel very lucky to work in such a dedicated team of brilliant and supportive people.”

Despite the odds, the scientists are determined that coronavirus is not going to beat them in their fight against cancer and now, after a difficult 10 weeks keeping vital experiments up and running with huge staff and supply shortages, the researchers are appealing to the public to help raise much needed funds to continue their work.

Jo said: “Without adequate funding Cancer Research UK just cannot continue with its work. The pandemic has impacted research across the country with many experiments having to shut down - causing huge delays to important cancer research. Whilst coronavirus maybe at the forefront of all of our minds, cancer is still killing as many people as it was, and our job is still a very important one.”

Jo, who has been working for Cancer Research UK for the past 12 years, added: “It’s vital that we carry on our work and we need public support to help raise funds so we can continue with our research. I feel very lucky to work in such a dedicated team of brilliant and supportive people. Although everyone here is affected in completely different ways, everyone has found their part to play in keeping research into cancer treatments going, and we are doing it together. I urge people to get involved and take up one of our new fundraising events as very penny counts in the fight against cancer.”

To get involved visit:

cruk.org/fundraise

raceforlife.org/sportsday

Joanna Brookfield is a researcher at Cancer Research UK's Therapeutic Discovery Laboratories (CRUK-TDL), based at the Babraham Research Campus, Cambridge, and a member of our Onco-Innovation Programme. CRUK-TDL is the in-house CRUK drug discovery unit with a principal focus on establishing and prosecuting biologically-themed multi-project alliances with industry.



13 May 2020