A cancer specialist who has made Glasgow into one of the world’s leading centres for leukaemia research has been awarded the Scottish Cancer Foundation’s inaugural prize which honours individuals prominent in the fight against cancer.

The work carried out by Professor Tessa Holyoake, Director of the Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre at the University of Glasgow, is offering hope of new treatments for a condition which has already seen dramatic improvements in survival in recent years.

Professor Holyoake was honoured by the Scottish Cancer Foundation at the Scottish Cancer Conference on November 16th and awarded a £10,000 prize in recognition of her role in helping to reduce the burden of cancer in Scotland. Professor Holyoake will use the money to further the centre’s ground-breaking work on cancer stem cells which play a critical role in the development of chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML)  – one of the main types of the disease.

Her work is of international significance and is focussed on delivering real improvements for patients. It is a fine example of how research in the laboratory is helping at the bedside.

The importance of her approach to treating CML was recognised by Richard Rockefeller, the great-grandson of John D Rockefeller, America’s first billionaire and the founder of one of the most powerful dynasties in the United States.

Richard Rockefeller, a qualified doctor, became an expert in CML after being diagnosed with the condition in 2000. He provided financial backing to Professor Holyoake’s centre and officially opened it in 2008 when he said: “I have chosen to support the centre because, among all the world’s researchers, Tessa Holyoake and her extraordinary staff stand out as offering the greatest promise of a medical cure for the leukaemia from which I have suffered.” Tragically, he died in a plane crash last year.

Professor Holyoake has demonstrated an enormous commitment to realise her vision of creating a world renowned translational research centre performing at the highest level. When she is not involved in cutting edge research, she can be found raising money through charity mountain climbs, bike rides, abseils and fun runs to raise the funds to support the work of the centre. She also shares her enthusiasm for science by engaging with the public through school visits, work experience for school children and laboratory open days.

I am both touched and honoured to be the first person to receive the Scottish Cancer Foundation prize in recognition of our work in leukaemia research and cancer stem cells.

The Glasgow University graduate’s work is focussed on comparing cancer stem cells with normal cells to identify potential targets for treatment. It has implications well beyond leukaemia and may offer solutions for a range of other cancers.

Professor Bob Steele, Chairman of the Scottish Cancer Foundation, said: “This award aims to recognise excellence in reducing the burden of cancer in Scotland and we could not have found a more worthwhile recipient than Professor Holyoake. Her work is of international significance and is focussed on delivering real improvements for patients. It is a fine example of how research in the laboratory is helping at the bedside.”

Professor Holyoake said: “I am both touched and honoured to be the first person to receive the Scottish Cancer Foundation prize in recognition of our work in leukaemia research and cancer stem cells. When I first returned to Scotland from Vancouver in 2000 I had set my heart on establishing a state of the art research centre to help improve the treatment for Scottish patients with a diagnosis of leukaemia. We started small and now have nine research teams across two research centres in Glasgow employing more than 50 students and scientists from all over the world. Our work is well known internationally and we are very proud to have such strong support from the Scottish Cancer Foundation, leukaemia patients and their families. I would like to thank Professor John Wyke who has supported my work for many years and Professor Andrew Biankin for nominating me. On behalf of all students and staff at the Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre and Friends of Paul O’Gorman a big thank-you to the Scottish Cancer Foundation.”

The Scottish Cancer Foundation prize is supported by the Grant Simpson Trust which helps organisations involved in the “advancement of health.”

This is the first year of the new award which attracted a range of entries. They all originated in Scotland and included

  • the development of a popular website to promote understanding and improve treatment of breast cancer
  • an initiative to train every new doctor in Scotland in health promotion;
  • a support project for people with cancer;
  • a campaign to raise awareness of mouth cancer;
  • the development of a “smart” bracelet to help people check their exposure to harmful radiation from sunlight.

Press Coverage

BBC News | Award for Glasgow cancer specialist (16/11/2015)

The Times | Glasgow specialist wins inaugural cancer prize (16/11/2015)

The National | Professor Tessa Holyoake honoured for turning Glasgow into leading leukaemia research centre (17/11/2015)

Glasgow Evening Times | Glasgow cancer doctor wins top award (17/11/2015)

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