Research News

Cancer Experts from Island of Ireland meet with US Congressional Caucus on Capitol Hill

  • 15 March, 2024


A delegation of leading cancer specialists from across the island of Ireland has met with and briefed the influential US Congressional Cancer Caucus on how a quarter of a century of transatlantic collaboration has delivered significant impacts in cancer research and care on the island of Ireland.

The Irish delegation, made up of leading participants in the All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI), met with the members of the US Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington DC today as part of this week’s Ireland – Northern Ireland – US engagement to mark St Patrick’s Week.

The island of Ireland delegation was jointly led by Professor William Gallagher, UCD School of Biomolecular and Biomedical Science, UCD Conway Institute, Professor Mark Lawler, Queen’s University Belfast, Northern Ireland, and Ciaran Briscoe, CEO, North East Cancer Research and Education Trust, Ireland, which also included Professor Jarushka Naidoo, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences/Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, Ireland.

Members of Congress were briefed on the impact of the Ireland - Northern Ireland – US National Cancer Institute Cancer Consortium which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The Consortium, established in 1999 following The Good Friday Agreement, has helped foster significant collaboration both between scientists and health professionals on the island of Ireland and with their counterparts in the United States.

The Congressional Caucus heard how this partnership has significantly increased both the quality and quantity of research across the island of Ireland, contributing to saving thousands of lives and enhancing the quality of life of cancer survivors.

The delegation highlighted the progress that has been made through this unrivalled tripartite approach,  and how it has acted as a springboard for the development of an All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI). This unique collaboration of 10 universities across the island of Ireland, along with other key stakeholders, is dedicated to delivering high quality cancer research and innovation, in order to ensure state-of-the art cancer care for all. AICRI is bringing together the combined strengths of cancer researchers across our island to tackle cancer, linking with the United States and other international colleagues in Europe. Its mission is to provide an overarching framework for cancer research across the island of Ireland, from discovery to implementation, for the benefit of cancer patients and wider society. UCD and Queen’s University Belfast have also recently formed a joint Cancer Partnership providing key resources to drive forward cross-border and all-island collaborations in cancer research.

Congressman Mike Kelly, Co-Chair of the Congressional Cancer Caucus said: “I am delighted on behalf of the Congressional Cancer Caucus to welcome representatives of the All-Island Cancer Research Institute, north and south to Capitol Hill and hear how their collective work has impacted both nationally and internationally. This event represents a unique opportunity to learn from each other and to strengthen our transatlantic linkages to help deliver better outcomes for cancer patients here in the US and on the island of Ireland.”

Speaking at the event, Professor William Gallagher, Professor of Cancer Biology at University College Dublin and Co-Lead of AICRI highlighted how the establishment of AICRI and its ambitious agenda has greatly enhanced cancer research on the island of Ireland. He also emphasised the potential for continuing and expanding transatlantic partnership in cancer research, “AICRI is a virtual institute, whereby all the necessary skills and diverse expertise required to properly address the complexities of cancer, are being brought together across the island of Ireland. Through our work, we will gain a better understanding of cancer, develop more personalised treatment options and ease suffering and save lives. AICRI will also help to deepen North/South and international collaboration. Our journey to develop AICRI has heavily benefited from prolonged US-Ireland collaboration in cancer research over decades. Indeed, with over half of the leading oncologists on our island having trained in the top 10 Cancer Centres in the US, the linkages between our countries in fundamental, translational and clinical research are exceptionally strong. Cancer knows no borders.”

The event was also addressed by Professor Mark Lawler, Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor and Professor of Digital Health at Queen’s University Belfast and Co-lead of AICRI, who said: “It is unprecedented that an all-island delegation should address the US Congressional Cancer Caucus here on Capitol Hill, but it reflects the achievements of this unique transatlantic partnership, ensuring that 35,000 patients on the island of Ireland could participate in clinical trials, saving thousands of lives. We have seen a 15% improvement in cancer survival on the island and a 550% increase in the quality of collaborative cancer research across the three jurisdictions. Our European Cancer Groundshot, echoing the U.S. Cancer Moonshot, has shown that patients treated in research-active hospitals have better outcomes that those who are not, categorically proving that research is a necessity, not a luxury.” 

Professor Lawler presented this work last September at the Science Summit of the UN General Assembly in New York, where it was recognised as a global exemplar of the health dividend of peace.

One of the areas where US all-island collaboration could really make a difference is in lung cancer, where outcomes are poor on both sides of the Atlantic. Professor Jarushka Naidoo, Professor of Medical Oncology at the Beaumont RCSI Cancer Centre (Beaumont Hospital, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences), member of AICRI and a global lung cancer leader said: “Later this month, we mark 20 years since the introduction of the smoking ban in the workplace in Ireland, the first country in the world to introduce this key public health intervention. In this moment, we recognise the urgent need to raise the bar for patients with lung cancer, the cancer responsible for the greatest cancer-related mortality in the US, Ireland and worldwide for more than 50 years. Importantly, this need is now matched by tremendous progress in novel targeted and immunotherapies for this disease, as well as the unrealised potential of early detection. Clinical progress in this area has been particularly aided by Irish investigators, whose work and leadership roles have continued global impact. We are now at a critical inflection point, in which strategic investment in lung cancer will allow us to realise the true potential of these advances.”

Next month, the island of Ireland will be a unique bridge between Europe and the United States, with the high-level “Euro-American Forum on Cancer” taking place in Dublin’s Farmleigh House. The event, will be jointly hosted by the Irish Government’s Department of Health and AICRI in collaboration with world renowned cancer organisations from the US and Europe, including the US National Cancer Institute (the largest funder of cancer research in the world), the American Society for Clinical Oncology the European Cancer Organisation and the European School of Oncology. The Forum represents an unrivalled opportunity to join forces against the common challenge – cancer - with a focus on lung cancer and cancer inequalities along with other important topics.

“This represents an exciting opportunity for Ireland to pay a key role in a new era of Euro-American cooperation on cancer,” said Ciaran Briscoe, CEO of the North East Cancer Research and Education Trust and Strategy Lead for AICRI. 

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