The Norfolk-born scientists at the cutting edge of cancer research

Prof Colin Cooper, chair of Cancer Genetics at the University of East Anglia

Prof Colin Cooper, chair of Cancer Genetics at the University of East Anglia - Credit: UEA

We celebrate Norfolk Day by looking at the ground-breaking cancer research on a global scale being carried out by two Norfolk-born scientists based at Norwich Research Park

The Professor striving to lessen the effect of prostate cancer on men 

Prof Colin Cooper, chair of Cancer Genetics at the University of East Anglia (UEA), has dedicated much of his working life to researching prostate cancer.  

Prof Cooper was born in King’s Lynn and brought up in the small village of Cockley Cley near Swaffham. He was inspired to take an interest in science by a chemistry teacher, Mr Brand, at Wymondham College. 

His pioneering work has helped to launch a non-invasive prostate cancer urine (PUR) home test that can detect biomarkers carried in urine that reveal whether a cancer is aggressive or low-risk. 

PUR kits are now being trialled in the UK, Europe and Canada thanks to funding received from Movember and Prostate Cancer UK. To help the accreditation of the trials, a new laboratory has been established at the Bob Champion Research and Education Building at Norwich Research Park. 

Prof Cooper has also developed a new test to analyse historic biopsy samples of prostate cancer to identify a dangerous and life-threatening group of cancers nicknamed ‘tiger’ cancers. Thanks to donations, he has applied the ‘Tiger Test’ to data from 200 prostate cancer patients to track their journeys from diagnosis to final outcomes.  

Most Read

He says: “Confirming our discoveries about why some cancers are more deadly than others will help many patients to avoid unnecessary treatments and their associated harmful side effects. 

“Without the generous support of donors none of these advances would have been possible. With their support to continue our research we can look forward to the day we can save more men’s lives coming ever closer.” 

Dr Darrell Green, lecturer and research group leader at Norwich Medical School within UEA

Dr Darrell Green, lecturer and research group leader at Norwich Medical School within UEA - Credit: UEA

The scientist who led the greatest breakthrough in bone cancer research for 40 years 

Dr Darrell Green, who is originally from Thetford, is behind one of the most significant breakthroughs in understanding and treating bone cancer for more than 40 years.  

He went to the Rosemary Musker High School (now Thetford Academy) and was one of only three people in his year to go to university.  

Dr Green was inspired to research bone cancer when at the age of 13 he lost his close friend to the disease, and is now a lecturer and research group leader at Norwich Medical School within UEA at Norwich Research Park.  

Having completed his first degree and PhD at UEA, he has been researching the core genetics and molecular biology of cancer cells so that new treatments can be developed that target specific abnormalities within cancer cells, preventing children from losing their hair, being sick, having their hearts and kidneys damaged and being left permanently disabled by the current chemotherapy protocols and amputation surgery. 

Dr Green explains: “In the womb, a baby develops because of instructions coming from a set of specific embryonic genes. When you are born, some of these genes are no longer needed and get switched off. But we found in bone cancer that some of these embryonic genes had wrongly been switched back on and it’s these pathways that bone cancer cells use to move around the body. 

“Thanks to the enormous generosity of our donors, we were able to run an experiment whereby genetically-engineered human bone cancer cells had certain features deactivated. The result, under lab conditions, was that we were able to stop the spread of bone tumours to the lungs, which is the biggest cause of death for bone cancer patients.” 

Prof Dylan Edwards, cancer biologist and pro-vice-chancellor for Medicine and Health Sciences at UEA

Prof Dylan Edwards, cancer biologist and pro-vice-chancellor for Medicine and Health Sciences at UEA - Credit: UEA/ Neil Hall

Leading Norwich-based cancer biologist retires  

Prof Dylan Edwards is a cancer biologist who has worked at UEA since 1998, when he was appointed as the Big C chair of cancer studies in the School of Biological Sciences, a post that was created thanks to a generous donation by Norfolk cancer charity Big C.  

Since 2016 Prof Edwards has been pro-vice-chancellor for Medicine and Health Sciences at UEA, overseeing education and research in medicine, nursing and the allied health professions. He is also executive chair of UEA Health and Social Care Partners, which brings together organisations from around East Anglia to innovate ways to improve the lives of patients.   

Prof Edwards has seen Norwich Research Park grow in its importance as a centre for worldwide cancer research. He says: “Without a doubt, the work being done here by our brilliant researchers such as Prof Cooper and Dr Green is world-leading and the breakthroughs that they have achieved will certainly change lives.  

“But, for their work to continue and for further breakthroughs to be achieved, they will still need the support of donations to the UEA charity, so I would like to encourage more of our local community to make this Norfolk based research the most deserving case for their personal charity or future legacy gift.”  

If you would like to make a gift to cancer research at UEA, or find out more about UEA’s pioneering work please email giving@uea.ac.uk or visit www.uea.ac.uk/difference 

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter