Collaborating on cancer cures

Today is World Cancer Day — and we are reminded of the sad fact that, with people now living longer, the risk of getting cancer is dramatically increasing. In 2012, there were an estimated 3.4 million new cases of cancer in Europe, an average of 254 new cancer cases for every 100,000 Europeans.

In Yorkshire & Humber alone, a stunning 102,636 years of life were lost to cancer in 2012-2014, with the chance of getting cancer hitting almost double the national average.

The painful reminders of these staggering statistics can certainly be felt up and down the country, from the empty chairs of lost loved ones at our dinner tables to the passing of the greats we grew up with, like David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Terry Wogan.

Cancer Research UK tells us that there is reason to be cheerful, as 4 in 10 cancers can be prevented through simply avoiding risky behaviour. By smoking less, keeping a healthy weight, eating more fruit and vegetables, drinking less alcohol and being more active we can reduce the risk of getting cancer.

Progress in treatment research has also come a long way, with more and more people beating cancer than ever before. In the 70s, only a quarter of people survived cancer diagnoses. Today, more than half will survive for at least ten years. In particular, new figures released last year highlighted that death rates for breast, bowel, lung and prostate cancer combined have fallen by almost a third in the last 20 years, thanks to research.

Cancer research and the developing of cutting-edge technologies to improve chances of survival is vital. But the problem is that it’s also very expensive, especially when you factor in the potential for wasteful duplication of research. Being a member of the EU has always provided an opportunity not only to share scientific expertise, but also to get more out of research programmes by sharing results, avoiding duplication and cutting costs with other countries — giving us a better chance at making progress.

This is why the research community is now becoming more vocal about our continued membership of the EU. And indeed it’s not just those working on cancer treatment that are worried about the prospects for the future of collaboration and funding for the sector. Neuroscientists, roboticists, nanotechnologists, astronomers and molecular biologists all fear for cuts in funding and the loss of academic talent if Britain were to leave the EU.

To quote one biochemistry professor:

It would be a disaster. Half my cancer research funding is from the European Research Council (ERC). Science funding from the EU is already mission critical and is set to become even more important when the expected new round of cost cuts are implemented.

To put it bluntly, continued scientific progression thrives on cooperation and simply cannot exist without reliable funding lifelines. To use the words of the recently-launched Scientists for EU:

If you’re pro-science, you should be pro-Europe.

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