A £3000 donation made by a local pensioner to cancer researchers at the University of Dundee has directly led to a significant breakthrough in kidney cancer.
Celia Gordon made the donation to Professor Stewart Fleming’s team in 2009. The money was used to begin a study on a form of inherited kidney cancer, which has now resulted in the discovery and development of a diagnostic test that could save patients’ lives.
“This work shows the tremendous value of the money that is donated to cancer research,” said Fiona Fraser, Chair of the Ninewells Cancer Campaign which has raised millions in support of research in Tayside.
“It isn’t just the large donations from charities that make the difference, all of the money people give us goes towards making a real impact and, as with this work, transforming the lives of patients.”
Professor Fleming led an international collaboration with colleagues in Ireland and Norway which has developed the new test for the rare form of inherited kidney cancerSDHB-associated renal cell carcinoma.
“This work started with the money we received from Mrs Gordon,” said Professor Fleming. “Just after we received the donation we were referred a patient with a very unusual kidney cancer, and when we tested her we found it was from a previously unrecognised sub-group of inherited kidney cancers.
“We started a project to see if we could develop a new test which would allow us to identify these cancers, the genes involved and be able to start treatment earlier and I am happy to say we have now done that.
“This is important because if we can properly identify cancers like this early then they can be removed while still small, thereby increasing the chances of survival. In the case of this particular type of cancer, it is an inherited form so we are able to inform relatives of the patient and monitor them so that if they go on to develop a tumour we can hopefully detect it early and treat it while still readily curable.”
Nearly 1,000 patients a year in Scotland develop kidney cancer. While some of these are cured by surgery many will require additional treatment and sadly almost 400 will die of their disease. Earlier use of more accurate diagnostic tests of the type developed by Professor Fleming and colleagues will help in the fight against kidney cancer.
Professor Fleming has worked in the field of genetic causes of kidney cancer for more than 20 years and he has been involved in the discovery of several of the genes responsible for this common cancer. He said this latest work represented another significant step in understanding the causes of the disease.
“Ten years ago no one would have suspected that a mutation on this gene - succinate dehydrogenase B – would have been associated with cancer. Now we know that it is responsible for this inherited form of kidney cancer, which means that we can target it and test for it, and give better care to patients.”
The results of the research have been published in the journal Histopathology.