The Great Pink Run for Breast Cancer Ireland is one of the key fundraising events for the charity — and it’s good for participants, too, writes Áilín Quinlan.
What motivates nearly 10,000 people — men, women, and children — in Ireland and the USA to devote hours of their precious weekend to running for up to 10km? They all want to raise money to fund research which could help save the lives of mothers, daughters, sisters, cousins, aunts, and friends with breast cancer.
Last year, more than 8,200 participants took part in the Great Pink Run event in Ireland, raising over €500,000 to support Breast Cancer Ireland’s breast cancer research programmes. One such programme was the establishment, last year, of a research fellowship into triple-negative breast cancer, a subtype found mainly in younger women, under the guidance of Dr Paul Mullan at Queens University Belfast.
Since the run began in 2011, 35,000 people have participated in the event, raising in the region of €1.7m to support BCI’s ongoing research and to promote awareness of the disease. This year an estimated 9,500 people will take part in the ninth annual Great Pink Run with Glanbia across Ireland and the US, raising an expected €600,000 to continue supporting BCI’s pioneering research and awareness programmes.
“This year’s fund will support research into metastatic cancer, which is where a primary breast cancer is treated but where, some years later, the patient experiences a recurrence of cancer elsewhere in the body,” says Aisling Hurley, BCI chief executive.
Leonie Young, associate professor and head of the endocrine oncology research group based in the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and BCI spokesperson, says the organisation’s chosen areas of research are driven by the needs of its patient ambassadors.
One in 10 women gets breast cancer, says Aisling, adding that while many of these are conditions with which you can live, in some cases the condition can be very aggressive. “It’s very frightening, and people want to know why this can happen and what their options are going forward.
“This research can lead to treatment which may improve patient outcomes because we’re looking for new therapeutic interventions.”
Most women, explains Aisling, will have surgery following breast cancer diagnosis, along with chemotherapy and radiation, in turn followed by focused therapy.
“In a proportion of patients, the treatment doesn’t work and the disease comes back. We study the difference between the patient’s primary tumour and the secondary tumour, and this research provides extremely important information,” she says.
“We look at the difference in the DNA, the RNA and protein, and at where these differences arise. They may represent new targets for therapeutic intervention.
“In recent years we have focused on brain metastasis because the prognosis is so poor and patients often succumb to this disease within a year of diagnosis. This is a very aggressive disease and currently, the therapeutic options are not great.
“We have profiled the primary tumour and matched it with the brain metastasis tumour, looking for what has changed.
“Some of the findings have helped us develop drug interventions which we are now testing on pre-clinical models. These are showing real promise and we are very hopeful that some of these may translate into clinical use.”
However, Aisling says these investigations are still at an early stage and will need intensive trialling. “Our studies need to be carried out on a very large cohort of patients from many different institutions to ensure our findings hold true. It’s a very long game — these studies are starting from first observations. Hopefully, they will give us brand new, novel therapies, that people will not have looked at before.”
The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, she says, is working closely with the Ludwig Breast Cancer Centre at the University of Chicago, on this international collaborative research programme into metastatic disease.
Registrations for The Great Pink Run with Glanbia are now open at www.greatpinkrun.ie