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Pioneering project aims to create wonderful legacy 

January 28th, 2021
Theo Morin, 25, is starting his scientific career after Cancer Research Wales funded his PhD studentship.

A pioneering research project, funded with hundreds of donations from the Monmouth area, will aim to create a wonderful legacy for a kind and caring teenager.

Theo Morin, 25, is starting his scientific career after Cancer Research Wales funded his PhD studentship into acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) at Cardiff University.

Cancer Research Wales has welcomed the start of the PhD programme at Cardiff University to increase an understanding of AML and to find new ways to treat this type of aggressive blood cancer.

The scholarship was made possible after the Monmouth community rallied to raise £100,000 in memory of Tom Walker, a 13-year old pupil at Monmouth School for Boys.

Tom was the youngest participant in the inaugural Cancer Research Wales Brecon Beacons Night Hike in March 2018, a challenging event in wintry conditions.

Sadly, Tom developed AML less than three months later and died shortly after diagnosis.

Ever since, Tom’s family and friends, and the Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools’ community have tirelessly worked to raise funds through a number of events for a research scholarship in his name.

“My PhD is funded thanks to the Walker family who bravely raised money in memory of Tom,” said Mr Morin, who hails from France, where he studied a Health Science masters’ degree at the University of Poitiers.

“I am really looking forward to working on this project and to improve our knowledge in the field of AML therapy.”

Tom’s parents, Tim and Debbie Walker, said: “We’re pleased to see that the fundraising efforts and donations by thousands of people have come to fruition and are now funding research into AML.

“Our thanks go out to everyone who has helped, including the Haberdashers’ Monmouth Schools and our local community in Monmouthshire.”

They added: “We wish Theo and his supervisors good luck and look forward to seeing how the research progresses over the next three years. We’re also hoping to raise more funds for Cancer Research Wales and continue what Tom started when he raised £700 in sponsorship for taking part in the first Brecon Beacons Night Hike.”

The Tom Walker Cancer Research Wales PhD Studentship for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia Research work is being done in the world-renowned laboratory of Professor Andrew Sewell in Cardiff and will be overseen by Professor Oliver Ottmann, the Head of Haematology and the AML Research Unit at the University Hospital of Wales.

The scholarship focuses on an emerging form of cancer treatment called chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy – or CAR-T therapy in short. CAR-T therapy uses T-cells, part of the body’s immune system. Some T-cells are highly effective at recognising and destroying cancer cells.

CAR-T therapy has been very successful in the treatment of a number of different blood cancers including lymphoma and certain types of leukaemia, but its usefulness in AML remains largely unexplored.

Professor Ottmann’s department already delivers CAR-T therapy for some other forms of blood cancer and the research will draw on this experience.

Dr Lee Campbell, Head of Research at Cancer Research Wales, said: “I am delighted that we have been able to award and launch the Tom Walker AML PhD scholarship during such challenging external circumstances, and proud of everyone who has contributed thus far. It is critically important that the commissioning and funding of high-quality cancer research continues in Wales since cancer has not paused for the coronavirus.

“The discoveries and insights made by Theo and the AML research team at Cardiff University will hopefully benefit people with cancer across the country.”

Professor Sewell said: “We are extremely grateful to the Walker family, Cancer Research Wales and the whole community in Monmouthshire for giving us this opportunity to create a lasting legacy for Tom through this research studentship.”

He added: “AML is an area of intense research as it represents a real unmet clinical need, and by carrying out this pioneering research we hope to provide important insights and make discoveries that will form the basis of future treatments for this disease.

“We also greatly look forward to working and engaging with the community as we share this exciting journey together.”

Tom Walker was a kind and considerate 13-year old pupil at Monmouth School for Boys.
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