Lisa’s lab: New research facility to honour West Norfolk woman’s brave brain tumour battle

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The family of a West Norfolk mother have spoken of their pride ahead of the opening of a new research laboratory named in her memory.

It’s now five years since Lisa Wiles, from Blackborough End, lost her battle against a brain tumour, aged 42.

Lisa Allen Wiles ENGANL00120110411144315

Lisa Allen Wiles ENGANL00120110411144315

Since then, Red Wellies, the charity set up in her memory, has raised tens of thousands of pounds to support vital new research into the disease.

And, today, the Lisa Wiles Neuro-Oncology laboratory will be formally opened at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.

The charity has donated £50,000 towards new equipment for the facility, plus a further £20,000 they received from an anonymous benefactor.

Lisa’s father, Mervyn, said they were continuing to follow the example that she had set for them before she died.

He said: “Lisa was a fundraiser in her own right for cancer, for children’s charities and animal charities.

“It’s carrying on her legacy. If it had been anyone else, she would have been the main fundraiser.

“She hoped it would help people in the future. That’s the type of girl she was.”

Even when seriously ill, Lisa still insisted on taking part in the annual Race for Life to help raise money for breast cancer charities.

Her daughter, Shannen Wiles van Dyke, said: “She was the one encouraging us to do it.”

The lab will be part of a refurbished set of facilities which have been named in honour of neuroscience professor John Pickard.

Ahead of the opening, Mervyn and several other members of Lisa’s family, who are also among the charity’s trustees, went to Addenbrookes to see the lab and find out more about the work that will be done there.

Although the facility is not expected to be fully operational until well into next year, scientists believe that, when it is, it will be a crucial step forward in the battle to find new treatments.

Currently, brain cancer accounts for less than one per cent of the amount the government spends on cancer research, even though it kills more people under the age of 40 than any other form of the disease.

Dr Colin Watts, Reader in Neurosurgical Oncology in Cambridge University’s department of Clinical Neurosciences, said: “If you’re 35 and you get breast cancer, the odds are you’re going to survive a long time. If you’re 35 and you get brain cancer, you’re not going to survive a long time.”

The new laboratory, which is only a short walk along the corridor from the hospital’s neurosurgery theatres, will allow scientists to store and analyse tissue samples from tumours like those Lisa had, to help them understand how they can be treated more effectively.

Dr Watts said that proximity offered a unique opportunity to researchers.

He said: “What we don’t have at the moment is a resource that will take tissue straight from the operating room, clean it up and prepare it in such a way that we can analyse how it is likely to behave.”

He explained that, although Lisa initially responded well to treatment, the returning cancer from which she ultimately died was a more aggressive form which was able to withstand both radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

By taking multiple samples from tumours like that, they hope to be able to find common elements within them that could be the target of potential treatments.

To help in that work, the scientists in Cambridge are already working with researchers around the world.

But the future of those international research links has been questioned as a a result of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

Dr Watts said colleagues had indicated that overseas organisations were being advised to be careful about working with British organisations, or not to work with them at all.

But he believes the partnerships Cambridge has with institutions abroad will be maintained, because of the university’s reputation.

“People will still go with excellence, so we’re concentrating on providing an excellent resource, a world class facility as part of a world class cancer centre.

“Britain punches well above its weight in the research that goes into cancer and Cambridge is one of the top centres in the world. In the end, I think we’ll find a way to collaborate with our European partners.”

And he praised the support of Red Wellies, which he says is crucial to their work.

He said: “It’s incredibly exciting, it’s unique. There’s nothing like this in the UK. What they are doing is absolutely fantastic.”

For the charity, the opening of the laboratory is a milestone, rather than an end point.

Having raised £50,000, they are now looking towards another milestone of £100,000.

But their aim is simple: to raise as much money as they can so other families do not have to suffer the anguish that they have.

For that, their work goes on, starting with a Quizmas evening to be held at the South Wootton village hall on Friday, December 2, from 7pm.

Tickets are priced £8, which includes a fish and chip supper.