Skip Content

Guest blog: PCRF supporter David Orme

6 June 2014

Supporter David Orme meets the research team undertaking world class research funded by 'Team Jackie'.

My name is David Orme. Like many of you, I suspect, I knew virtually nothing about pancreatic cancer until a few years ago.  Then, almost overnight, my world – and that of our two young daughters - was turned upside down.  My beautiful and wonderful wife Jackie, whom I had met 27 years earlier at university, was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.  She was only 46.  She was full of life and had a head full of plans.
The Orme family

An amazing group of friends formed ‘Team Jackie’ to help her fight in every conceivable way.  And boy, what a fight she put up.  She was even thinking of running (well walking actually) the Bath half marathon, if well enough, to raise money for pancreatic cancer research.  Sadly, as is so often the case with pancreatic cancer, Jackie lost the fight within 12 months.  Even though she could not be there at my side, I decided that I would still run the Bath Half for her.  It was a very personal thing.  What I did not expect was how personally so many other people felt Jackie’s loss – over 200 people joined me.  We have raised over £150k in the past 18 months and we continue to raise more.  We have returned to Bath again this year and will be at the Cardiff Half marathon in October.

In discussions with Maggie Blanks, founder of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, we decided that it would be a fitting tribute to Jackie’s memory to finance a specific piece of research recommended for funding by the charity’s Scientific Advisory Panel.  That way, we could live in hope again, that something good could come out of something so terrible.  

The research that Team Jackie has paid for is now up and running.  Last month I met Professor Caroline Dive and her team at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, to look around the research lab where this 2-year project is being carried out.

The first thing that struck me was the team’s overwhelming sense of humanity. I was not surprised at their technical brilliance, but I was not expecting them to feel so passionate about the patients, and what they can do to reduce suffering and improve quality of life.  I don’t know why I say this, as they are all brilliant people who devote themselves, for very little financial reward, to making a difference.  But nonetheless, I was extremely heartened to meet them.  I was proud to be on the same team!

The second thing that struck me was how well balanced the team was.  This multi-disciplinary team brings very different skills, but together they are so much more than the sum of the parts.  The team comprises Professor Caroline Dive (clinical & experimental pharmacology) Professor Juan Valle (Consultant Oncologist at The Christie Hospital, Manchester), Dr Ged Brady (genetic mapping), Dr Claus Jorgensen (systems oncology i.e. the way pancreatic cancer cells chemically communicate with the healthy cells surrounding them), and Dr Mahmood Ayub (pictured below left) who is undertaking most of the lab work and whose full-time role the Team Jackie funding is paying for.

Dr Mahmood Ayub and David Orme

And the final thing that really struck me was a point Professor Dive made abundantly clear - that there is virtually no funding out there for this sort of formative research.  Once breakthroughs are made, there are millions of pounds of funding available for clinical trials from the pharmaceutical industry and Cancer Research UK, but until then it is down to people like you and me to make sure that this is not the forgotten cancer. The researchers are so grateful to us for this money, and they will need more to continue after this project until some breakthrough is made.  It probably won’t be a single massive breakthrough, but a series of smaller ones, each leading to more knowledge and more progress. 

So exactly what research is being done?

We urgently need more effective ways to tackle this disease and a way to determine what drugs and treatments best suit individual patients.  Currently, treatments are crude and toxic and what the patient receives is determined only by the stage of the disease, and what they are well enough to withstand. Monitoring the effectiveness of treatment relies on taking biopsies, which can be risky and painful. This project will enable more targeted and personalised treatments that will help prolong life, and improve quality of life.

Professor Dive is looking to identify and analyse stray tumour cells that circulate in the blood. This will pave the way to profiling the molecular characteristics of patients’ pancreatic tumors from a single blood test.  From this information, she ultimately hopes to set up clinical trials to tailor and monitor treatments for individuals.  The pancreas is deep in the body, so a simple ‘liquid biopsy' that avoids invasive surgery would be a huge improvement for already very sick patients. 

Within 10 years they hope that pancreatic cancer will not be viewed as a single cancer but as a variety of different cancers that require different personalised treatments.  And treatment options that offer a significant improvement in life expectancy and a genuine improvement in quality of life.

I hope that within a generation pancreatic cancer will not hold the fear that it does today.  Hopefully well before my daughters, and your children, need to worry about something called pancreatic cancer.  Thanks so much to Professor Dive and her team.  And thank you to Team Jackie, too.  Let’s keep bringing that money in - because, dare I say it, I’m now looking to raise the next £150K!
Team Jackie at Bath Half

Find out more about Team Jackie here

< Back