Four in ten cases of cancer in the UK (and other countries) are preventable through addressing behavioural risk factors like smoking, diet, physical activity, alcohol and UV exposure, for example. Yet prevention research and policy does not receive the same attention or level of investment as some other areas of research. I’m committed to making the case for prevention, to anyone who will listen, whenever possible.
A new area in cancer prevention is tobacco harm reduction (THR). I chaired the NICE guidance group on this topic for two years and since then have worked closely with Cancer Research UK to commission new studies to fill research gaps on THR, particularly around electronic cigarettes. Along with colleagues at CRUK and Public Health England, I’ve helped establish the UK Electronic Cigarette Research Forum which is generating new collaborations and studies on this issue and also informing international debate. My own research team at the University of Stirling is also conducting research on this issue. We have 2.8 million e-cigarette users in the UK. It’s still controversial, but important.
There are many and in my role as CRUK’s cancer prevention champion I am learning more about the latest advances in diagnosis and treatment alongside my own areas of expertise. However, for me, identifying and making the case for effective prevention policies that involve not just individual behaviour change but also modifying the societal drivers of risk factors is the biggest challenge.
There are some very exciting funding opportunities that will bring together new multidisciplinary groups of researchers to answer important questions. This includes CRUK’s Grand Challenge scheme, the Catalyst scheme, and more broadly, multi-funder initiatives that CRUK is involved in – for example the next stage of the National Prevention Research Initiative is about to be launched.
Contributing to efforts to reduce rates of smoking in pregnancy in the UK and overseas. Smoking in pregnancy is still the leading preventable cause of neonatal and maternal morbidity and mortality. I’ve led a number of studies identifying effective interventions and also helped develop NICE and World Health Organisation guidance. Since 2011 I’ve chaired the smoking pregnancy ‘Challenge Group’ in England which developed a strategy to help meet government targets and continues to meet and develop resources, guidance and research on smoking in pregnancy through its members who represent many organisations (from baby charities, to the Royal Colleges and research groups) working on this issue.
About the Scientific Committee
NCRI covers the full spectrum of cancer research and there is a lot I don’t know about many topics, so just understanding what will be covered and who is best placed to contribute has been challenging.
Meeting new colleagues from a range of disciplines and organisations and learning about the latest research, policy and practice developments that will be discussed at the conference.
Just for fun
What has life taught you?
How little I actually know. I’m still learning and hope to keep doing so for many years to come.
I travel a lot with work but travelling with my family is more enjoyable and we’ve been fortunate enough to visit a number of different countries. I also enjoy running, going to the gym and have a membership at a local independent cinema in Edinburgh where I live.
Where would your dream holiday be?
My parents emigrated to Canada when I was a child and I spent my teenage years on Vancouver Island. I never appreciated it as a teenager but I now return most summers with my own family and I think it is one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Name three things you would take with you to a desert island.
My son and daughter and my husband. No contest!