£27,500 donation cuts cancer treatment waiting time

The Peterborough Cancer Treatment Appeal (PCTA) is a registered charity dedicated to fundraising for equipment used in the treatment and diagnosis of cancer for the Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which the trust would otherwise be unable to afford.

They were established in 1981 by the late Dennis Bracey, Medical Director of Peterborough Hospitals, and Dr Clement Brown, a visiting oncologist from Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge.

The achievement is an excellent example of what can be achieved by the collaborative efforts of a dedicated group of locals.

Lodges in Peterborough, led by W Bro Mervin Roberts, Charity Steward of Petriburg Lodge No. 8767, with assistance from the Provincial Grand Charity, have raised the magnificent sum of £27,500. This has helped cut cancer treatment waiting times in Peterborough and district.

PCTA had recently appealed for funds for a new computer-aided technique which improves the accuracy of radiotherapy treatment. This significant help has enabled them to complete their fundraising and have the equipment commissioned much earlier than would have otherwise been the case.

In a ceremony at the Peterborough Masonic Centre in December last year the Deputy Provincial Grand Master, VW Bro Dr Vivian Thomas, presented the cheque to Keith Fisher, the Chairman of the PCTA.

Trust Secretary, Ron Douglas said: 'We launched the appeal with a target of £100,000. This tremendous donation represents over a quarter of the appeal and has quickly taken us over our target. Without it we would have taken much longer. This donation by local masons means we can immediately buy the equipment which will now be operational by January 2014. Without it patients of Peterborough and district might have had to travel as far afield as Liverpool for this specialist treatment. We - and I’m sure they - are very grateful.'

It was horses for courses when Cambridgeshire masons attended a banquet to mark the bicentenary of the Holy Royal Arch in the Millennium Suite overlooking the Rowley Mile at Newmarket racecourse

The climax of the evening was when Grand Superintendent Rodney Wolverson presented a £40,000 cheque to Helen Fernandes, consultant neurosurgeon at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Cambridge, representing the Royal College of Surgeons.

Fernandes talked of the work of the Royal College of Surgeons, specifically the support for the young surgeons with ideas for research that had the potential to lead to major advances in medicine. She expressed her delight and thanks for the magnificent sum raised by Cambridgeshire Royal Arch Masons.

A matter of patients

As the Royal Arch marks its two-hundredth anniversary in 2013, Sophie Radice looks at how members and the chapters have been supporting the Royal College of Surgeons in groundbreaking medical research

At the Blizard Institute of Cell and Molecular Science in London, William Dawes is trying to find out how to lessen the damage done to premature newborn babies who have suffered a stroke. Part of the surgical research fellowships scheme run by the Royal College of Surgeons, Dawes is just one of the medical pioneers in the UK whose work has been funded by Freemasons.

From investigating how to prevent acute kidney injury during major heart surgery through to exploring how to decrease mortality rates following traumatic brain injury, the fellowships scheme will be benefitting from financial support given by the Royal Arch Masons 2013 Bicentenary Appeal. The fundraising exercise aims to provide a permanent reminder of the Supreme Grand Chapter’s full emergence two hundred years ago by its future relationship with the Royal College of Surgeons.

‘Schemes such as the surgical research fellowship are invaluable for surgeons,’ says Dawes, who is also being supported by Sparks, the children’s medical charity. ‘The research we have been funded for will look at ways of lessening the damage done to the brains of premature newborns who have bleeding into the ventricles of the brain. Our focus is a collection of tiny, fragile blood vessels in the germinal matrix, which is the area of brain adjacent to the wall of the ventricles. These blood vessels are vulnerable to fluctuations in blood flow, which can cause them to rupture and bleed. The younger and smaller the baby, the higher the risk. Our research will look at ways of making the cells that survive the bleed perform better so that the damage will be minimised.’

Providing crucial support

Dawes trained in Leeds and then Liverpool before moving to London, and is now at the Blizard Institute, Barts and the London School of Medicine doing a PhD. ‘I knew very little about Freemasons until I discovered how much money they give to surgical research. I have since given presentations to chapters and have found the Freemasons I’ve met to be so supportive. It has been a real pleasure to speak to them about what we are trying to do – we are extremely grateful for their generosity,’ he says.

The Royal College of Surgeons launched the surgical research fellowships scheme to enable the brightest and best surgeons of each generation to explore treatments for conditions and injuries that affect millions of people worldwide. The scheme relies completely on voluntary donations from individuals, trusts and legacies, and needs more funding to continue the number of worthy research projects supported.

George Francis, Second Grand Principal of the Royal Arch Masons and Chairman of the appeal, explains: ‘In 1966, the Eleventh Earl of Scarbrough, as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of England, launched an appeal to mark the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Grand Lodge in 1717. The income from the appeal was given to the Royal College of Surgeons. We are so proud of our contribution to surgical research that it seemed natural that our 2013 Bicentenary Appeal should go into funding more research. We hope to raise well over £1,000,000.’

Professor Derek Alderson, Chairman of the Academic and Research Board at the Royal College of Surgeons, adds: ‘We feel it important that donors should understand exactly what is being done with their money, so in the past twelve months research fellows, supported by officers of the College, have made more than forty presentations to a variety of masonic bodies. We never have any problems finding young surgeons to talk about their research, but I suspect that this says more about masonic hospitality than anything else.’

Like William Dawes, Nishith Patel and Angelos Kolias have made presentations to chapters throughout the UK to discuss their vital research work

Bodies of work

Nishith Patel

Research Title: Acute kidney injury following heart surgery
Location: Bristol Heart Institute, Bristol Royal Infirmary

‘I first heard about the fellowship from the Royal College of Surgeons and I jumped at the chance to apply. It is very competitive, with a four-part application process, because so many surgeons want the chance to kick-start vital research in their surgical area.

‘We are looking at the way two different methods can prevent acute kidney injury during major heart surgery. The first method is a drug trial and the second is to put the blood through an automated washer during surgery to prevent organ injury. We looked at the blood used in blood transfusions and found that some of it had gone off because it had been stored too long. Putting blood through an automated washer to remove toxins could be very useful for all those who need blood transfusions and so that has become part of our research too.

‘I was surprised that the Freemasons funded these fellowships because I knew very little about them.

I have since given presentations to small groups of Freemasons and found that they not only asked very detailed and intelligent questions but that they also seem to really appreciate and understand our work when we explain it to them.

I have found the Freemasons to be very decent and down-to-earth people who are open to hearing complex medical explanations, which is very refreshing. I so appreciate the opportunity they have given me.’

Angelos Kolias

Research Title: Traumatic brain injury: the role of veins
Location: Addenbrooke’s Hospital and University of Cambridge

‘I heard about the fellowship from my supervisor, Peter Hutchinson, who was himself supported by a Freemasons fellowship during his PhD.

Peter is now a reader and honorary consultant in neurosurgery at the University of Cambridge and Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

‘Head injuries still claim the highest toll in terms of lost lives and disability for those under the age of forty. The aim of my research project is to examine whether blockage of the large veins inside the head is contributing to the brain swelling after head injuries. Research in patients suffering from another condition that leads to high pressure inside the head has shown that quite a few of these patients have blockage of the veins. A novel way of dealing with this problem is the insertion of a stent, which is an artificial tube, inside the blocked vein. As a result of this, the pressure inside the head is reduced and the patient gets better. This treatment was developed in Cambridge about ten years ago.

‘Essentially, my research project aims to find out whether a similar mechanism applies to patients with severe head injuries. So far we have some promising results showing that about one-third of those who have a severe head injury and skull fracture develop blockage of the veins. Without the help of the Freemasons, we would not have been able to undertake this kind of research – we are very grateful for all their help and support.’

Without the help of the Freemasons, we would not have been able to undertake this kind of research’ Angelos Kolias

Letters to the editor - No. 22 Summer 2013


Charity for all


Sir, I read with satisfaction the article ‘A Matter of Patients’ in Freemasonry Today, spring 2013. Satisfaction because it reminded me that thanks to the focus of both the Royal Arch and UGLE on the medical profession in general as recipients of our charitable giving, we have recently attracted two initiates (both GPs) who said they had previously had no idea of
the extent of our charitable work within medicine. On the basis of their discovery, they had decided that they now wanted to be part of Freemasonry.

Publicity for the charitable giving that we all do – both generally and within the medical profession – is certainly having an effect on the general public’s perception of Freemasonry. Based upon our experience here in Cyngesburie Lodge, I would suggest that it may benefit other lodges seeking to increase their membership to focus some attention on potential initiates within all branches of medicine. Appraising them of the tremendous work we do to support their profession can only be beneficial, regardless of whether or not they subsequently decide to join the Craft.

Martin Day, Cyngesburie Lodge, No. 5607, London


Published in SGC
Friday, 14 September 2012 01:00

Hope in the Making

By creating an artificial pancreas, Dr Roman Hovorka and his team hope to improve the wellbeing of children with Type 1 diabetes. Luke Turton reports on this Freemason-funded medical breakthrough

At Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, Dr Roman Hovorka sits on a bed. In his hands he holds a small black device about the size of a DVD box. If it performs as Hovorka hopes, it will help children with Type 1 diabetes to sleep through the night, calm the nerves of their anxious parents and reduce the likelihood of the long-term complications that can come from low blood glucose such as blindness.

The black box in Hovorka’s hand is a computational device that wirelessly connects a tiny glucose sensor sitting just under the skin with a pager-sized pump that delivers insulin into the body through a catheter. Together they can do the job of a healthy pancreas.

In 2007, The Freemasons’ Grand Charity donated £50,000 to diabetes charity JDRF to help fund research commissioned by the University of Cambridge into an artificial pancreas for children that would take place at the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facilities at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. It could be used overnight to monitor blood glucose levels and administer insulin automatically. Five years later, Hovorka and his colleagues are at the testing phase with technology that has the potential to bring relief to not just the 29,000 children in the UK with Type 1 diabetes but to young sufferers worldwide.

Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but is most commonly diagnosed during childhood. With this type of diabetes, the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. People with Type 1 diabetes must therefore carefully monitor their glucose levels every day and inject insulin. Children are a particularly vulnerable group: they do not necessarily understand the seriousness of their condition or comprehend that if they do not keep a tight control over their glucose levels they may begin to see the early signs of complications in their late teens or early 20s.

The artificial pancreas has the potential to help protect these children by automating what was previously a manual process. The computational device receives data from the glucose sensor that it processes in order to advise how much insulin is needed, which the pump can then automatically deliver. Hovorka describes the artificial pancreas as ‘closing the loop’, with the devices able to talk to each other without the need for human intervention.

‘Closing the loop is an old idea. A group in Canada and Germany came up with it in 1979. There was even a commercial device about the size of a fridge that cost $50,000. For around 20 years, people tried to make it smaller and implant it into the body but it never worked,’ explains Hovorka, who is a mathematician by training. ‘Then in early 2000, Medtronic came up with a sensor that could sit outside the body and monitor the glucose on the skin. When I saw the data, the current levels of treatment and control, it clicked that if we combine the devices we can improve the lives of those with the condition, as well as those of their carers.’

Hovorka is keen to emphasise that the artificial pancreas is an interim measure, what he terms a bridge to cure, but that it can nevertheless be a crucial component in the management of Type 1 diabetes for the short to medium term: ‘Biological research could provide the final cure but I believe that’s 20 to 30 years away. In the meantime, closing the loop is low-hanging fruit. We can make the devices smaller, we can do things like combining the sensor and pump – we are not aiming for perfection but for gradual improvement.’

A trustee of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity, Dr Charles Akle, sat on the committee that decided to fund the research. He echoes Hovorka’s point about why the artificial pancreas is so valuable. ‘People think that medical advances happen in huge leaps, but it’s not the case – sometimes you jump a couple of steps with incremental improvements,’ he says, adding, ‘I’m a Freemason and what makes me tick is the philanthropy. Because I have a clinical and research background, I was asked if I could sit on the committee to look at all these applications for worthy causes. The decision process is always difficult, but it is made easier when we are certain that projects have the potential to succeed – which we felt this did from the beginning.’

After the Daily Mail reported on the Cambridge team’s work in June this year, Hovorka received an email from a family who had a child with Type 1 diabetes. ‘They were two doctors and they explained how their child was missing school because of chronic fatigue syndrome,’ he explains. ‘People can see that this technology is in reasonable shape and can revolutionise the way Type 1 diabetes is managed, so there’s been enormous interest from families.’

Over the last five years, research nurse Janet Allen has been diligently recruiting children to come and try out the artificial pancreas in a special hospital ward at the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Facilities. ‘We started off by signing up 12 children between five and 18 who had Type 1 diabetes. There had been a lot of media attention about the research so they were easy to sign up. We compared controlling glucose with a computer in a hospital to how they managed the condition at home and the first pilot study results were very encouraging.’

Janet describes the dawning realisation by parents when they first see the tight control that the artificial pancreas is able to achieve. ‘Hypoglycemia is the real fear. It’s where the glucose drops suddenly and tends to happen more frequently overnight. That’s the reason parents are so nervous with their kids ­– they don’t sleep at night and are up two or three times checking their child’s glucose levels. With the artificial pancreas doing this automatically, the parents in our focus group said half their worries were gone.’

With the trials moving on from overnight stays for the children to 24-hour tests and then 36-hour, Janet is full of admiration for the resilience of both the children and their parents. ‘They’ve been so patient and positive. We need to insert a tube into the child called a canula to take blood samples, but they understand that’s part of the study. When they see the results, they’re so happy and I’ve sometimes felt very sad to turn the computer off because after one hour you see the glucose go sky high when it’s been in a steady state during the night.’

The next stage of testing for the artificial pancreas sees the devices being used overnight in children’s homes. While the hope is that the technology will function in exactly the same way, a whole host of new factors come into play once the test subject steps out of a hospital ward and into the real world. ‘Once people think that the system can work, they can get a little bit careless with the treatment,’ says Hovorka. ‘It’s about finding which group will benefit the most. We also have to justify the artificial pancreas on an economic basis, weighing up the benefits against costs. The big push is then how we take this to market – we can do only so much and then the commercialisation happens with big companies getting involved.’

Theodore Collins is an eight-year-old who has been part of the hospital trials. If his experiences are anything to go by, then the artificial pancreas deserves to find a global audience. ‘When I took part I was one of the youngest children and so nervous. Everyone took care of me and was extremely kind. I felt brilliant helping to achieve the artificial pancreas goal – I wanted to help all the children in the world who have Type 1 diabetes,’ he says. Asked what the artificial pancreas would mean for him, Theodore doesn’t hesitate. ‘Better blood sugars all day, freedom to be a child doing any sport and no worries throughout the night. My mum and dad can finally relax and not wake up. More importantly, it would mean having a normal life again.’


Healthier for Longer

For more than four decades JDRF has been searching for new ways to treat Type 1 diabetes. ‘It’s run by people with Type 1 diabetes for people with Type 1 diabetes. We get no government funding so committed individuals give us what they can afford, as well as foundations and trusts such as The Freemasons’ Grand Charity. Getting ideas out of the laboratory and into the clinic is crucial to JDRF – enabling that first transition from Petri dishes, to animals, to humans. Roman Hovorka had some great ideas in simulation and our funding allowed him to trial them in the real world,’ says JDRF’s Head of Research Communication, Rachel Connor.

‘We are not just pursuing the artificial pancreas, we also want to cure Type 1 and prevent it – JDRF put $170 million into lots of different types of research last year,’ she adds. ‘A cure would allow people to make their own insulin but this would involve a restoration of the cells that produce insulin as well as stopping the destruction of these cells. While the artificial pancreas is not a cure, it could have a transformative function in keeping people healthier for longer. I’d like to say that in three years we’ll have first generation machines being used outside of a clinical setting, but there’s a lot to do.’

Published in The Grand Charity

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