Breast Cancer Now’s Delyth Morgan explains how research projects funded by Walk the Walk make a huge difference

We are delighted to share a message from Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Now - one of the charities that has benefited from grants made by Walk the Walk, thanks to your support.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Now

The coronavirus pandemic has changed so many aspects of our lives. It has inspired me to evaluate how far we’ve come, to improve the lives of women and men affected by breast cancer, and think about the next steps we need to take to make sure progress doesn’t stall.

Breast Cancer Now is the UK’s first comprehensive breast cancer charity, formed through two mergers. First, the merger of Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Campaign in 2015, and then the merger with Breast Cancer Care in 2019. Now, we provide support for today, through our Helpline and face-to-face services, and hope for the future through our world-class scientific research.

Throughout our journey, Walk the Walk has been our constant partner. Together, we’ve launched new studies, championed world-class science and funded the brightest minds in breast cancer research. We’ve made incredible progress and, as we’ve discovered how much more we still need to do, we’ve continued to work together to ensure a brighter future for all those affected by breast cancer.

 Professor Valerie Speirs and team at the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank. Valerie is also an expert spokesperson on research for Walk the Walk's Men Get Breast Cancer Too campaign 

Over 24 years of partnership, Walk the Walk has funded a wide-range of research projects by making grants to Breast Cancer Now. They were one of the founding funders of the Breast Cancer Now Tissue Bank. It’s a vital resource making research faster and more reliable by giving scientists the ability to study real breast cancer samples. Running for almost ten years, the Tissue Bank was restructured in 2019 to make sure it can support the needs of evolving research. Providing tissue samples for many different projects, it’s helping us understand how breast cancer develops, spreads and becomes resistant to treatments, bringing personalised medicine closer to practice, and much more.

Walk the Walk also contributed funding to establish the Breast Cancer Now Generations Study in 2004. It’s a unique study following more than 113,000 UK women for 40 years, investigating the genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors that influence women’s chances of developing the disease. They could then be offered tailored information about their risk and more accurate advice about the best risk-reducing steps they can take. The study has already investigated the link between stress and breast cancer, suggested that women taking combined HRT are 2.7 times more likely to develop breast cancer than non-users, and that exposure to light at night while sleeping or working night shifts does not increase breast cancer risk. Most recently the study contributed to research trying to improve the accuracy of breast cancer risk prediction in women before the menopause, and is now continuing to expand our understanding of what causes breast cancer.

The same team is also leading the Breast Cancer Now Male Breast Cancer Study, with the largest collection of DNA and tumour samples from men with breast cancer in the world. By analysing data generated from these samples we hope to understand what causes breast cancer in men, how it differs from breast cancer in women and how best to treat it. So far the study has helped researchers to discover that a single change in the gene called RAD51B can increase the risk of breast cancer in men by up to 50%. It has also contributed to global efforts to understand the link between obesity and breast cancer in men.

Professor Clare Isacke, Breast Cancer Now Research Centre

Walk the Walk has always wanted to do as much as possible to help to prevent people dying from breast cancer. Currently, if breast cancer has spread to become secondary (or metastatic) breast cancer, it is incurable. In 2017 Walk the Walk funded Professor Clare Isacke, a leading expert in the field of secondary breast cancer research. Professor Isacke wants to understand how breast cancer cells interact with their surroundings and how these interactions may help the disease spread. Her team hopes to find ways to prevent, or treat, secondary breast cancer and ultimately, save lives. Thanks to this previous support from Walk the Walk, Professor Isacke’s lab and collaborators have started to develop an immunotherapy which targets cells that can help breast cancer spread. Now, they are refining it in the lab to reduce the unpleasant side effects associated with this therapy, in the hope this could provide a viable, effective treatment option in the future.

Another eminent scientist Walk the Walk funded in 2017 is Professor Mitch Dowsett. Over the years, Professor Dowsett and his team have changed the way doctors determine the most appropriate treatment for patients with oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer. Most recently, Professor Dowsett led the development of a tool which can help clinicians select the best possible treatment for women with oestrogen receptor positive breast cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic, thus prioritising the most urgent patients.

As well as projects being carried out at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre, at The Institute of Cancer Research in London, Walk the Walk has funded selected research projects across the UK. In 2018 Walk the Walk funded Professor Deborah Fenlon and her team, leading an innovative trial called MENOS4. Professor Fenlon is investigating whether breast care nurses can effectively deliver cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help women manage the menopausal symptoms caused by some treatments for breast cancer, such as chemotherapy and hormone therapies like tamoxifen. If this trial shows that this approach works, CBT group sessions could become a part of standard care and improve the lives of women having to deal with these debilitating side effects.

This is great progress, but we also know just how much there’s still left to do. We still don’t fully understand why some women develop breast cancer and others don’t, why and how it spreads to other parts in the body and becomes incurable, and some treatments, although they can be effective, come with side effects that are hard to endure. We want to continue funding research to understand the disease better and improve the lives of people affected. We recently announced a brand new research project in secondary breast cancer, which wouldn’t have been possible without funding from Walk the Walk. Breast Cancer Now was delighted to award the new five-year Walk the Walk Fellowship to Dr Damir Vareslija a leading scientist from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, University of Medicine and Health Sciences. Dr Vareslija is studying how breast cancer spreads to the brain, where it becomes incurable, and can cause debilitating symptoms such as seizures, headaches, vomiting, and uncoordinated movement, which can severely affect a person’s quality of life. Treatment options are currently limited as the brain has a unique barrier that protects it against anything harmful and prevents many targeted treatments and chemotherapy from reaching it. We hope this Fellowship will reveal new treatments that may help both improve quality of life and extend the lives of people living with secondary breast cancer in the brain.

Over the last few months, the coronavirus pandemic has presented huge challenges for our research, with labs closed and scientists severely limited by the work they can carry out from home. Charities funding medical research have together experienced a significant loss in income. Experts estimate it will take 4.5 years to bring investment in research back to normal. It has affected us too. But breast cancer does not wait. And, at a time when people diagnosed with breast cancer need us more than ever, it is vital that the pace of progress in improving the prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer does not stall.

I am so proud of our partnership with Walk the Walk and all that we’ve achieved together. Two organisations supporting one another, committed to one clear goal - that by 2050, everyone diagnosed with breast cancer will live and be supported to live well. I look forward to further progress being made, thanks to your support.

Thank you to everyone involved in Walk the Walk for providing hope for the future for everyone affected by breast cancer.

- Baroness Delyth Morgan



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