Hannah Francis’ legacy: charity funds new research into rare bone cancer

  • Hannah Francis’ legacy is helping fund a new three-year osteosarcoma research project.

    Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony Charity, which was established by the inspirational young event rider before her death in 2016, is part-funding the PhD research project that will build on preliminary findings into how to slow and control the growth of the rare type of bone cancer.

    Charity Friends of Rosie Children’s Cancer Research Fund provided a grant for an initial two-year project, on which the new research will build.

    Katherine Finegan led the early research, which found a protein called ERK5 can control the growth and spread of osteosarcomas. By removing ERK5, they were able to slow their growth and prevent the spread to the lungs.

    Dr Finegan will lead the new project at the University of Manchester from this month.

    “We’re delighted to be helping to take the very encouraging findings from the project funded by Friends of Rosie to the next stage,” said Rachel Francis, Hannah’s mum.

    “We’re working hard to collaborate with fellow charities and ensure our research activity is joined up to ensure the greatest chance of success. We know Hannah would have been proud that her charity has enabled further research into this devastating disease.”

    The PhD will build on the preliminary findings to explore exactly how ERK5 controls osteosarcoma progression.

    “This information will help us understand how ERK5-targeted therapies would work. It will also help us understand the proteins that ‘talk’ and ‘listen’ to ERK5 during osteosarcoma development, something we know nothing about yet,” said Dr Finegan.

    “Understanding these ‘conversations’ that ERK5 has in the cells enables us to find new proteins that we could target in the future to make new therapies for osteosarcoma.

    “Secondly, this project will investigate if removing ERK5 can improve response to chemotherapy in models of osteosarcoma. Finally, we will use samples donated from patients (Biobank) to confirm that our findings from osteosarcoma models translate to osteosarcoma patients. Importantly, via another grant, we are making new compounds to target ERK5. Once these new compounds are available (by approximately the end of 2020), we will use them in this project to test their effectiveness in osteosarcoma models.”

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    Friends of Rosie chairman Felicity Goodey added: “We’re delighted that our funding, which enabled this project to get off the ground, has already helped this vital research to secure further investment for the next three years.

    “We’re hopeful that the project being funded by Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony Charity will attract large-scale funding and help to improve the prognosis and treatment for children diagnosed with osteosarcoma in the future.”

    Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony Charity was founded in March 2016 to raise money to fund osteosarcoma research and to provide equestrian experiences to seriously ill people.

    It raised more than £1 million in its first two years and has funded a number of significant research programmes, including a grant of £230,000 to the University of Sheffield’s department of oncology and metabolism to look into identifying new drugs to treat the disease.

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