Breaking boundaries for cancer research

Teacher Chris Gruar, 25, is cycling from Great Britain to Australia to raise funds for cancer research. On Wednesday, July 11th, after his first 7.000 km, Gruar stopped over at the University of Helsinki's molecular cancer biology lab.

Breaking boundaries for cancer research
Dr. Kaisa Lehti, Dr. Pipsa Saharinen, Chris Gruar, Dr. Gwen Wathne and Dr. Kari Alitalo.

"Cancer has no boundaries. Fortunately, neither do we", runs the slogan of the AICR, the Scotland-based Association for International Cancer Research. To prove that these are not mere words, AICR funds a broad range of world class cancer research, and arranges spectacular fundraising activities. Climbing up the Kilimanjaro and diving with sharks are just two examples of their recent events.

In April, Chris Gruar embarked on a voluntary cycling journey to collect donations from private donors. The trip comprises altogether 25.000 km from St. Andrews in Scotland to Sydney. This Australian history teacher, who lost his mother to cancer, states:

– I am far from being a cycling fanatic but it is simply the best way of travelling, of noticing how landscapes, cultures and habits change. And, ultimately, it is a great way of experiencing personal achievements.

Last week, Gruar made his way across Norway up to the North Cape, equipped with just a basic touring bike, a tent and a stove.

– I live on not more than 3 to 4 Euros a day but gladly I meet many supportive people who treat me to a hot shower and a meal, Chris says.

After Helsinki, Gruar's route continues through the Baltic States and South Europe to Iran, India, China, Indonesia and Singapore. He expects to arrive in Sydney in the spring of 2014.

Cutting the cancer tumour’s lifeline

The University of Helsinki’s cancer research lab is the first research laboratory Gruar visits on his way. Academy Professor Kari Alitalo’s molecular cancer biology group received AICR funding in 2009. The team researches molecular mechanisms of cancer growth and how to inhibit the tumour vasculature.

A cancerous tumour in itself is not harmful unless the cancer cells find ways to spread. In the same way that people depend on food and oxygen, a tumour does too, and therefore it will continuously strive to connect to a blood and lymphatic vessel network that supplies it with nutrients and oxygen. For approximately 40 years researchers have been developing ways to inhibit the growth of these supply vessels, however, a cancer tumour has the menacing ability to find alternative ways of migrating.

Patients who have been treated with blood vessel inhibiting medication often stop responding to the medication. Alitalo’s AICR-funded research project seeks to improve these treatments by closely examining the gene-controlled communication between blood vessel, lymphatic and cancer cells.

– If a disease knows no boundaries, it also demands infinite efforts to investigate and fight it, states Alitalo. – Finnish donation culture should become as active and creative as the AICR's international cancer research funding, he encourages.

AICR – The Association for International Cancer Research »»

Chris Gruar's blog: Cycling4Cancer »»

Tuhat Research Database: Kari Alitalo »»

Read more: "Finnish cancer research now the best in the
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Text: Claudia Gorr
Photo: Ari Aalto
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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