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Meet the man trying to cure childhood leukeamia while following the Canaries

PUBLISHED: 17:12 29 January 2019 | UPDATED: 17:35 29 January 2019

Professor Mel Greaves, who grew up in Norwich and has been knighted for his pioneering and hugely influential research into childhood leukaemia. Picture: Terry McCormick

Professor Mel Greaves, who grew up in Norwich and has been knighted for his pioneering and hugely influential research into childhood leukaemia. Picture: Terry McCormick

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He has dedicated his career to studying the causes of childhood leukaemia and is at the forefront of stopping the disease in its tracks.

Professor Mel Greaves, who grew up in Norwich and has been knighted for his pioneering and hugely influential research into childhood leukaemia.Photograph ©  John Angerson
 - ICR Sutton
Legacy Project.Professor Mel Greaves, who grew up in Norwich and has been knighted for his pioneering and hugely influential research into childhood leukaemia.Photograph © John Angerson - ICR Sutton Legacy Project.

But no matter where he is, Professor Mel Greaves always keeps an eye on the fortunes of Norwich City Football Club, a team he is “addicted to”.

The 77-year-old, who now lives in south-west London, grew up in New Catton and attended City of Norwich School before going on to study at University College London.

He said: “I spent the first 18 years of my life in [Norwich] and went to City of Norwich School, it was a very good school, it was considered one of the top grammar schools in the country, I absolutely loved it.”

Prof Greaves who regularly returns to the county to stay on the North Norfolk coast and visit family in and around Norwich, said his love of NCFC first began when his father took him to a match as a child: “I think my dad took me to Carrow Road when I was about six, and it gets very addictive, whether people like it or not I have to know the result,” he said.

Spending the last three decades at the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) studying the causes of childhood leukaemia, Prof Greaves said his curiosity about the causes of the disease was sparked after visiting a London hospital and seeing children undergoing treatment.

He said: “There are lots of areas of medicine I could have gone into but the motivation to go into leukaemia came when I went to a hospital and saw children on their drips and very pale, and I just imagined these could be my children, and there is a very strong motivation when you think your children could have this.”

Since then, Prof. Greaves has gone onto uncover the genetic influences and biological pathways such as exposure to benign microbes and infection that lead to the disease developing and is working on using probiotics to prevent it.

Recently receiving a knighthood in the News Years Honours list, an accolade which follows the receipt of the Royal Society’s prestigious Royal Medal in 2017, Prof Greaves said such an honour was never in his sights.

He said: “It has been a wonderful journey over the last 40 years since I first started studying leukaemia, and I feel very privileged to have been able to contribute towards the unpicking of this once mysterious and lethal disease.”

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