PUBLISHED ON: 3 June 2020

Dr Simon Vincent, Director of Research at Breast Cancer Now, shares how COVID-19 has affected Breast Cancer Now’s research.

A photograph of one of our research labs

The coronavirus outbreak has changed all aspects of life, and it remains an extremely difficult and uncertain time for so many people affected by breast cancer. We’re here to support anyone affected by the disease, the whole way through the crisis and beyond.

But through funding world-class research, we’re also here to change the future of breast cancer.

Dr Simon Vincent, Director of Research at Breast Cancer Now, tells us more about how COVID-19 has affected Breast Cancer Now’s research.

What research does Breast Cancer Now fund?

At Breast Cancer Now, we fund research to discover how we can prevent breast cancer, save lives and live well with the disease.

Our scientists – almost 340 of them across the UK and Ireland – are trying to answer some really difficult questions. They are trying to understand why some women develop breast cancer while others don’t, what weaknesses different breast cancers have and how we could target those weaknesses to treat the disease, how we can stop breast cancer spreading to other parts of the body and becoming incurable, and how we can treat it better when it spreads.

With our research, we want to achieve our ambition that by 2050, everyone who develops breast cancer will live and be supported to live well. We want to give people hope for the future and drive forward progress on a global stage.

How has Breast Cancer Now’s research been affected by the COVID-19 crisis?

I have been getting in touch with our researchers to find out from them how COVID-19 is affecting them and their work.

The coronavirus pandemic has unfortunately put a lot of our lab-based research on hold and forced most of our researchers to change the way they work. With most university and hospital sites closing, many of their experiments are currently paused.

In line with Government guidance, The Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research and our Research Unit at King's College London, which focuses on triple negative breast cancer, also had to close to protect scientists, staff and the public. Most of our researchers are still waiting to find out when and how their research in the labs will be able to start again.

What are scientists doing while labs are closed?

Many of our researchers are working from home where they can. They are analysing their data, writing up their results and planning their next steps, all of which are really important. They’re making sure breast cancer research in the labs can resume without a delay when it’s safe to do so.

Some of our scientists are at the frontline supporting the national response to the pandemic. I know they want to help stop COVID-19 outbreak and to minimise its impact on people affected by breast cancer. Scientists with clinical training have returned to the clinics to treat breast cancer patients. Some of our researchers have also been helping develop new guidelines for breast cancer treatment during the pandemic.

I also know that some of the scientists who have been unable to work on their research projects from home have volunteered to work in labs carrying out COVID-19 testing. And many of our research labs have loaned their equipment to be used for COVID-19 testing.

We’re very proud that our researchers are doing everything they can to help overcome this crisis and to ensure that breast cancer research in the labs can continue as soon as possible. We'll be sharing their stories in upcoming blogs soon. 

What does it mean for Breast Cancer Now’s 2050 vision?

The coronavirus outbreak unfortunately means that we are currently less able to carry out the cutting-edge research needed to achieve our 2050 vision. But we are doing all we can to minimise this impact. We don’t want to lose momentum or to let progress stall.

To ensure that we can make up for lost time, we’re giving our researchers the flexibility they need with their projects. We’re also working to establish contingency funds so that when labs reopen, any of our world-class research projects that have been severely set back by COVID-19 can be completed.

The stark reality is that the current COVID-19 situation represents a major roadblock to breast cancer research progress. 

We need your support, now more than ever, so that our researchers can make up for lost time. Donate today.

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