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Funding Boost for Begbroke Cancer Research Group

A Begbroke-based research group developing innovative nanodelivery treatments for cancer received a welcome funding boost in February when a donation from the St James’s Place Foundation was made to William’s Fund. The William’s Fund was set up by Johanna and Peter Dodd 13 years ago, following the loss of their 4 year old son William to cancer, to raise money for paediatric oncology research.

Dr Helen Townley is currently the William Dodd Fellow in medical sciences, and the fund also supports a team of 2 PhD students, and 3 placement students at Oxford University under the supervision of Townley, and Dr Karl Morten of the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. The research group at Begbroke Science Park is based in the Institute of Advanced Technology.

Using nanoparticles to deliver drugs to specific cells has a two-fold effect: it can significantly lower both the amount of the drugs required, and the side effects resulting from the treatment itself.

As Dr Townley explains “In treating cancer, there’s a fine balance to be struck – killing the tumour, without the side effects killing the patient. Using nanoparticles to carry the drug,  allows us to deliver a controlled release of the drug therapy exactly where it’s needed.”

In paediatric cancer treatment, lowering the side effects is particularly important. Johanna Dodd says “Children have to deal with the side effects of cancer treatment at a very young age – any reduction in the impact that it has on their developing bodies is a huge benefit. “

The exciting breakthroughs in the group’s research were explained to Jeremy Burditt, Senior Partner at donors St James’s Place Partnership, on a recent visit to Begbroke Science Park. Placement student Anna Hiraoka explained how she uses nanoparticles which are 500 times smaller than a human cell. The tiny particles, can exit the bloodstream (the conduit of more conventional cancer treatments), and accumulate in the tumour.

“All monies donated to William’s Fund go directly towards funding the research – we cut all the costs by running the company from our home,” says Johanna Dodd, “this is our legacy to William. It’s refreshing to see donors interested in coming to speak with the researchers – it really helps them to see how every penny they give is being used.” Mr Burditt, visibly impressed, declared himself “blown away” by the infinitesimal scale on which the experimental therapies are conducted.

Dr Morten pointed out that developing a range of silica particles delivering multiple therapeutics tailored to suit individual patients, could also help to “mop up” remaining rogue cancer cells that might lodge in other parts of the body during the initial treatment of the main tumours.

Future research will look at a multi-pronged approach to treatment, focussing on improving drug delivery ratios without increasing drug toxicity.

For more information on William’s Fund go to

For more information on the work of the St James’s Place Charitable Fund go to

For more information on the work of Dr Helen Townley’s Research Group go to


Ben Roeves