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Science Funding: Funding Cancer Research UK

Over the years science funding has changed significantly. In the past, funding would have been obtained through private benefaction or from wealthy individuals. Today, researchers are usually funded by a mixture of grants from government agencies, non-profit foundations and institutions. However, with the increasing popularity of social media and the internet, methods used to obtain money may be undergoing a shift. New routes linking funding sources with scientists are being increasingly explored. Tighter budgets and struggling economies are driving a need for new ways of funding and social media is proving to be invaluable in raising awareness of projects and linking like-minded people more effectively.

In a special Soapbox Science series, nature.com blogs has been focusing on the new ways in which science groups and individuals are obtaining funding and how projects such as Petridish, Tekla LabsKickstarter and the #scifundchallenge may change the future of scientific research. Crowd funding of research has been happening all over the world and Nature London is turning the spotlight on Cancer Research UK, the UK based cancer charity who have looked to the public to fund specific research projects. MyProjects is a web-based initiative to give members of the public the opportunity to donate to a specific piece of research which is meaningful to them. The projects are described online, with a target of how much money needs to be raised in donations before they will be collected and work will begin. At the moment, 39 projects are seeking or have reached full funding, spanning a whole range of cancers. One of the major beneficiaries of this initiative was Professor Jack Cuzick , head of the Centre for Epidemiology, Mathematics and Statistics at the Wolfson Institute in London, whose major trial of a breast cancer drug raised over £100,000 of funding. Nature London met with him.

Professor Cuzick, welcome to Nature London. Firstly, tell us a bit about your work. You’re co-ordinating the International Breast Cancer Intervention Study II.

Yes. IBIS-II is a double blind randomised trial with 2 strata:

i. In high risk women (mostly due to family history) without breast cancer we compare anastrozole to placebo for 5 years.

ii. In women with locally excised oestrogen receptor positive Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) with clear margins we are comparing anastrozole to tamoxifen.

We have just completed recruitment and achieved our project numbers. Compliance has been good and the study is progressing well

What do you hope to achieve from this work?

The main endpoints are for breast cancer prevention in the high risk groups – we are hoping for a 70% reduction. In the DCIS stratum we hope that anastrozole will be 25% more effective than tamoxifen.  It is projected that we will have an adequate number of events to evaluate this in 12-18 months.

You raised a considerable sum of money for this work from MyProjects, the public donations project run by Cancer Research UK – over £100,000. How did you get involved in that?

We spoke with potential donors on a few occasions and did an interview.

Ed’s note: you can see Professor Cuzick talking on film about his goals here:

With public funding and charitable donations under pressure in the current climate, do you think that the public directly supporting individual research projects could be a serious source of funding for scientific research in the future?

Yes, especially for this type of research that has a direct and easily understood message for the public, direct appeals are a good potential source of support. I don’t have a strong view, but it makes sense to fund more work this way in future. And for the public, having an identified project for which support is provided, is a nice way to help support cancer research as the money can be more directly linked to an advancement.

Did the fact that you raised so much money from members of the public specifically for this project have any affect on your work as a scientist?

Only to get a strong feeling that the public supports our work, which is nice.

Professor’s Cuzick’s work is now closed to donations, but Cancer Research UK is still running a series of projects which you can support directly. To see all the available projects, go to http://myprojects.cancerresearchuk.org/projects

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