Ours is 'last generation to worry about dying from cancer': top scientist

Professor Gerard Evan

Louise Hogan

A LEADING research scientist is confident the next generation will not have to "worry" about dying from cancer.

World-renowned cancer research expert Professor Gerard Evan believes that remarkable developments in technology and knowledge of gene mutation has revolutionised the treatment of cancer.

"We are going to see dramatic shifts in our abilities to treat and contain human cancers in the next 10, 15, 20 years," said the Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge in Britain.

"I can pretty confidently say that my children will never have to worry about dying from cancer in their lifetimes."

Prof Evan was speaking ahead of joining 40 researchers from throughout Ireland who will gather next week to help explain the latest developments in the science behind battling cancer – as the Irish Cancer Society (ICS) announces the 'Researcher of the Year' award for pioneering work.

"I can't tell you how exciting it is at the moment for someone who has spent their life in cancer research," Professor Evan told the Irish Independent.

The researcher explained that his own offspring were now aged 24 and 32 but in 30 years' time, he strongly believes, cancer will be treatable.

"I'm more worried about global warming than my children dying of cancer," he said.

"I started my life as a graduate student in 1977 and for the first 25 years of that, most of us thought if breakthroughs would come it would be 100 years from now – it was almost banging your head against a brick wall."

Over the past 15 years a combination of technological developments and increased understanding of gene mutation has driven research forwards. Now laboratories can strip cells down and identify the 'drivers' behind the cancer which has allowed pharmacists to make drugs to inhibit them.

"The combination has done amazing things – for decades there were no really new cancer drugs working in new ways," he said.

Now, some drugs can put patients into remission in 60pc of cases for five or 10 years.

"The way things are going, if the person relapses there will be lots of new drugs in five or 10 years," he said.

"We will be able to knock them back again and again."

He highlighted multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood cells, once considered "pretty much a death sentence", yet a combination of three drugs has now "transformed the lives" of a large number suffering from the disease.

Prof Evan is just one of a number of experts who will be addressing the ICS's free public event on research aiming to eliminate cancer on Wednesday, April 30 at the Hilton Hotel, at Charlemont Place, in Dublin 2.

The event, taking place from 5pm to 7pm, is free but places must be booked by emailing ebrohoon@irishcancer.ie or ringing 01 231 6611.