02 Sep Turning £15,000 into £14,000,000
Roger is a retired surgeon living in Guernsey who for the last 10 years of his working life also spent a day a week in Southampton as a breast cancer consultant. Working in Guernsey he knew about the bank of stored blood samples collected from thousands of Guernsey women over 40 years by Cancer Research UK. A question formed. If analysed using newly emerging techniques, would the samples show a difference between breast cancer sufferers and those who would never develop the disease? He approached a Southampton colleague, Paul Townsend, who was enthusiastic. A grant of £15,000 would be enough to carry out initial sample analysis but where would the money come from?
Roger was a swimmer and, to his own surprise, suggested he could raise the money by swimming the channel. In 2006 he not only swam in horrible conditions but inadvertently become the oldest Brit ever to do it.
The initial research was encouraging enough to start a further 10 year study led by Paul in Southampton. The ongoing findings were getting international attention but to complete the study efficiently new, specialist equipment was needed: the cost £500,000.
Roger then had a ‘stupid idea!’ How much could he raise if he became the oldest person in the world to swim the channel? Amazingly, Derek Coates, MD of Guernsey healthcare company Healthspan and an early supporter, personally offered £250,000 and the backing of his company to approach their clients. Other Guernsey swimmers accepted the channel challenge and started to fundraise as well. The result: a world record for Roger (in a grueling 17 hours 51 minutes), a new spectrometer and a state of the art research lab in Southampton.
Then Paul, who’d been leading the Southampton research, accepted a professorial post in Manchester where he led an application for a £14 million grant for the study of Biomarkers to further the research. In June 2016 Paul and Roger attended the opening of the Stoller Biomarker Discovery Centre in Manchester.
From one heroic swimmer, to hundreds of donors, ground-breaking research, millions of research hours and a future where Biomarker Research is opening the door to Precision Medicine, the ripples from the first swim in 2006 show no signs of abating yet.