Oxfordshire Freemasons have presented a Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) grant of £100,000 to Alzheimer’s Research UK to help them fund pioneering research into new tools for dementia diagnosis.
Alzheimer’s is the leading cause of dementia in the UK, with half a million people living with the disease. However, the early stages of memory loss can often be attributed to a range of different factors, making an accurate and timely diagnosis a huge challenge. This means people don’t receive the correct support and miss out on opportunities to take part in clinical research.
The expert research team, led by Professor Simon Lovestone at the University of Oxford, want to tackle this by developing a simple blood test for Alzheimer’s disease.
The MSF provided the £100,000 donation following a poll of local Freemasons who nominated the Charity to receive a grant from the Silver Jubilee Research Fund. Alzheimer’s Research UK is one of 13 medical research charities to be awarded a grant by the MSF this year at a total cost of £1.125million.
The donation was presented to Professor Simon Lovestone by the Provincial Grand Master for the Province of Oxfordshire, James Hilditch, on 15th October at the Nuffield Department of Medicine Research Building, Old Road Campus.
Speaking on behalf of local Freemasons, James Hilditch said: “Alzheimer’s is a disease that affects so many of us, family, friends and colleagues. Over 550 Freemasons from around the Oxfordshire area nominated Alzheimer’s Research UK to receive a grant and we are very proud to be able to demonstrate our support for the fight against dementia.”
The first three years of Professor Simon Lovestone’s project have been incredibly successful, with the discovery of a protein ‘fingerprint’ in blood that could predict whether someone with mild memory problems will go on to develop Alzheimer’s. To date, the Freemasons’ charities have provided over £560,000 to Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Hilary Evans, Chief Executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“This incredibly generous gift has the power to improve clinical trials for Alzheimer’s disease. We know that many of the drug trials that have taken place so far – and failed – have been carried out in people in the later stages of Alzheimer’s. But it is likely that for new drugs to be effective, they’ll have to be given much earlier in the disease course. A simple blood test to help predict whether people with mild memory problems will go on to develop Alzheimer’s has huge potential to ensure people receive the right drugs at the right time.”
Up and running
When Freemason Geoff Cousen suffered two strokes, it was the MSF’s support that enabled him to return home. His daughter Sue tells Imogen Beecroft how taking on an ultra marathon in the Lake District was her way of saying ‘thank you’
The Lake District’s dramatic scenery attracts visitors from across the world, keen to savour its rugged fells and literary associations. But for Sue Cousen, admiring the National Park’s picturesque charms was not top of the agenda on 27 June. Raising money for the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF), she ran a gruelling 55km amid the mountains and valleys. As her father, Geoff Cousen, a Grand Officer in the Craft and Royal Arch, says, ‘She must be mad.’
Sue decided to raise money for the MSF last year, after the charity supported her father when he suffered two strokes, aged 83. Geoff has been an active Freemason for almost 60 years, in Runic Lodge, No. 6019, in the Province of West Lancashire, and served as vice-chairman and chairman of the Lancaster and District Group of lodges and chapters.
‘I’ve spoken about how we rely upon the charities many times, but I’d never realised quite how much. I shall be forever grateful to the MSF.’ Geoff Cousen
Following the strokes, Geoff was unable to walk and made little progress in his recovery. He was discharged from hospital after four months and sent to a nursing home. His family doubted whether he would ever be able to return to his normal life. Geoff says, ‘I didn’t think I’d get back home because I couldn’t really do anything. I can only use one hand so that made things difficult.’
Steps to recovery
Then Ernie Greenhalgh, a lifelong friend of Geoff’s and Provincial Grand Almoner for West Lancashire, stepped in. ‘I managed to get a small grant from the West Lancashire Freemasons’ Charity to pay for an independent occupational therapist to assess Geoff. They worked on him for three weeks and he made quite good progress. I told the MSF and they helped towards the cost of his physiotherapy over the next three months. He came on leaps and bounds, and can now walk about 30 metres and get himself out of bed.’
Geoff was able to return home to his wife, Brenda. ‘The physiotherapy the MSF gave me got me walking, and I’m so grateful to them,’ he says. ‘It’s wonderful to be back home. You’ll never realise how much you miss it until you’ve been in a nursing home.’
The MSF can often help those in situations like Geoff’s, offering a range of support tailored to the individual’s specific needs. The MSF provided Geoff with a riser-recliner chair, a profiling bed and a stair lift, as well as the additional physiotherapy sessions that enabled him to return home. Mobility aids like those given to Geoff and his family make up a quarter of all the support that the MSF currently offers.
As Sue says, ‘They’ve helped us so much. When he first went into the nursing home he had intense physiotherapy five days a week. That’s now been cut to three days a week because he’s done so well. He couldn’t have come home without the things the MSF provided. He still can’t use his left hand but he is walking. He can’t walk very far, but he can get from the house to the car. It takes a while, but he can do it.’
‘With all the help we’re getting from the MSF, I thought it would be a great way to give something back... I can’t thank them enough.’ Sue Cousen
Sue explains that she wanted to do something to express her family’s gratitude to the MSF. ‘With all the help we’re getting from them, I thought it would be a great way to give something back,’ she says. ‘I’ve always thought positively of Freemasonry. My dad’s enjoyed his time with them so much and the MSF really helps people like Dad and their families. They don’t blow their own trumpet about their charitable work, but I can’t thank them enough – they’ve done everything really, and without them there would have been no chance at all of Dad making it home.’
Sue decided to take on the Lake District Ultimate Trails Challenge, an ultra marathon course that starts and ends in Ambleside, near Lake Windermere. Over 55km of challenging terrain, runners cover 1,700m of ascent and descent. A regular runner, Sue trained five times a week in preparation for the day.
Speaking just before the race, she said: ‘It sounded like a good idea when I signed up last year but I do keep having nightmares now! I know the hills will be the biggest challenge because I’m used to flat running, so this is completely out of my comfort zone. I’ve got no idea how long it will take, but I’ll be quite happy to complete it – that’s the main thing.’
Rising to the challenge
Sue completed the run in 10 hours, 38 minutes and 17 seconds, taking 217th place out of 312 runners.
‘It was hard work but it was good,’ she says. ‘The camaraderie was great and everyone helped each other around the course. Some of the hills were a lot bigger and longer than I anticipated, but I got round. The hardest part was Grisedale Hause, which felt like a never-ending climb. Even coming down was hard because the ground was stony and there are steep drops nearby, so it wasn’t just a straightforward run.’
In total, Sue raised around £2,000 for the MSF and recovered from the challenge well: ‘I struggled to walk for a couple of days afterwards, but felt fine by the end of the week. My legs were okay and I went back to training five days after the race.’
John McCrohan, Grants Director of the MSF, explains that without fundraising efforts like Sue’s, the MSF wouldn’t be able to offer the breadth of support to those most in need. ‘All the money that she raised will be available to support Freemasons and their loved ones,’ he says.
For McCrohan and the MSF, it is particularly significant to receive support from a non-mason.
‘We always hope that the support we offer will not only help a Freemason in a time of need, but will also benefit the family. The support can help relieve some of their caring responsibilities or reassure them that their loved one is getting the essential help they need.’
Geoff could not be more proud of his daughter and the contribution she’s made. ‘I’ve been a mason for 57 years now. They’ve been very good to me and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Although I’ve spoken about how we rely upon the charities many times in speeches, I’d never realised quite how much.
You hear about them, you talk about them, but you don’t understand them really – until you’ve got to use them. I shall be forever grateful to the MSF.’
Change of heart
By completing the first non-beating heart transplant in Europe, consultant surgeon Stephen Large could radically reduce the time for those on the donor waiting list. Sarah Holmes discovers the part Freemasons have played in this medical breakthrough
A heart attack in 2008 was the beginning of Huseyin Ulucan’s slow decline into heart failure. By 2014, his condition had deteriorated so severely that he could barely walk. Placed on the transplant list, he joined a long queue of urgent cases. Of the 250 people a year in need of heart transplants in the UK, fewer than half will find a viable organ in time.
While the chance of Ulucan finding a new heart seemed low, everything changed in March 2015 when he was put forward for a bold new transplantation procedure that would reduce the wait for a donor heart from three years to just four months. Traditional transplants only use hearts from donors who have been declared brain-stem dead but still have blood pumping around their bodies. This new procedure used a non-beating heart that had been reanimated in the donor’s body after death.
Using a groundbreaking technique, surgeons kept the heart beating in the donor body for 50 minutes to test its function, before transporting it on a three-hour journey to Papworth Hospital, Cambridgeshire, for transplant into Ulucan. The procedure was the first of its kind to be performed in Europe, and looks set to revolutionise the field by opening up a new supply of donor hearts previously thought unusable.
‘This procedure could increase heart transplantation by 25 per cent in the UK,’ says Stephen Large, the consultant cardiothoracic surgeon (opposite) who oversaw the operation. For three years, he and a research team at Papworth have worked tirelessly to fine-tune the techniques needed to restart and restore a non-beating heart. ‘It means that instead of accepting one in five hearts offered, surgeons will be able to accept two or maybe even three.’
The operation’s success has transformed attitudes towards donation after cardiac death, with Papworth now receiving at least one referral per week. It’s a remarkable feat given the longstanding belief that non-beating hearts become irreparably damaged during the process of death. This breakthrough proves that by re-establishing a fresh supply of blood within 30 minutes of death, the heart can restore its energy supplies enough to start pumping efficiently again.
A £200,000 donation from The Freemasons’ Grand Charity and the Masonic Samaritan Fund allowed Large to establish the project in February 2013, paying for costly organ-care technology as well as the employment of Simon Messer, the cardiothoracic transplant registrar who helped to develop the technique for restarting the heart.
‘It’s difficult to determine whether an organ will function properly once it’s been transplanted. With a heart, it’s even more challenging because it has to be beating,’ says surgeon Charles Akle, a member of the Non-Masonic Grants Committee of The Freemasons’ Grand Charity. ‘The fresher the organ, the better the chance of a successful transplant – there have always been problems with maintaining the quality of a heart, especially one that’s already stopped beating, until it reaches the recipient.’
‘It’s difficult to determine whether an organ will function properly once transplanted. With a heart, it’s even more challenging, because it has to be beating.’ Charles Akle
Keep the rhythm
To this end, the team at Papworth used a revolutionary new technology, the TransMedics Organ Care System, to give the donor heart a steady supply of warm blood. Known as normothermic perfusion, this technique keeps the heart beating as it would inside the body after it’s been removed, so it doesn’t suffer further damage during the journey to the recipient. It’s an essential support system for non-beating hearts, which have already suffered a prolonged lack of blood supply and wouldn’t survive the traditional method of preserving donor organs on ice.
‘TransMedics really takes the heat out of the situation,’ says Large. ‘It allows us to travel greater distances with a “live” heart, and gives us the time to properly assess whether a donor organ is being matched with the right recipient.’
In Ulucan’s operation, the decision to continue with the transplant fell to Steven Tsui, the clinical director of transplantation at Papworth. Watching him mull over his thoughts while the donor heart pumped away on the TransMedics was, Large admits, the most nerve-shredding moment of the procedure.
‘After years of research, that was the final hurdle,’ he recalls. ‘I said to him, “You need to wrestle with your demons here, but this I’m sure is a great heart.” ’ Within minutes, it was being stitched into its recipient and just four weeks later, Ulucan was back at home enjoying his new lease of life. ‘That’s an outstanding recovery by any standard. It must have been a phenomenal heart,’ says Large.
Opening up the donor pool
Without the support of the Freemasons, Large’s research could never have translated into the successful clinical programme it is today. ‘One of the greatest challenges of research is realising the funds to do it,’ says Large. ‘Competition is fierce, and translational programmes like this struggle to attract funding from the Medical Research Council.’
As both a researcher and fund-giver, Charles also understands the challenge. ‘We get pulled in so many different directions at the Grand Charity. It’s impossible to prioritise one research project over another. They are all worthy,’ he says. ‘But we do tend towards applications with a more methodological process, something that’s likely to have a good result that can be developed to benefit other conditions.’
Large’s funding application ticked all the boxes.
‘It provided an immediate and flexible solution for heart transplantation that opened up the donor pool,’ says Charles. ‘It also laid the groundwork for further research into preserving donor organs for as long as possible.’
For Large, the research is only just beginning. ‘Snipping out dodgy organs and stitching in new ones is a replacement therapy. It’s up to the next generation to find out why organs deteriorate and how we can regenerate them organically. I just wish I had another lifetime to see it, because that will be such fun.’
‘A great challenge of research is realising the funds to do it. Competition is fierce, and programmes like this struggle to attract funding from the Medical Research Council.’ Stephen Large
Developed in the US, the TransMedics Organ Care System pumps warm, oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood through a heart, allowing it to keep beating from the moment it’s removed from the donor until it’s implanted in the recipient. A transparent chamber fixed to the top of the machine allows surgeons to watch the attached organ pump blood as it would in a body. Dubbed the ‘heart-in-a-box’, it has also been used to transplant livers and lungs.
Making new connections
Scientists hope the knowledge gained from vital research will offer new clues for the treatment of Alzheimer’s
Every four seconds, there is a new case of dementia in the world. The condition is caused when the brain is damaged by diseases such as Alzheimer’s, which affects half a million people in the UK. The symptoms of Alzheimer’s vary but typically include memory loss, confusion, disorientation, and mood and behavioural problems.
As Alzheimer’s progresses it can alter a person’s life entirely, robbing them of their memories and independence, causing them to require constant support. There are currently no treatments that slow or halt progression of the disease – something that it is hoped can be changed through research.
The Grand Charity and the MSF recently joined forces to provide a £175,000 donation to Alzheimer’s Research UK, to help fund efforts to identify new targets for treating the disease. This research is taking place at the University of Cambridge and seeks to understand the chain of events occurring at the onset of the disease. Over the past 30 years, the central masonic charities have donated £855,000 towards dementia research, while also caring for people living with the disease.
One of the difficulties researchers face is finding participants for studies; at the same time, many members of the public are looking for studies to take part in, but don’t know where to find them. A national service, Join Dementia Research, tackles the problem by connecting participants with researchers, helping to recruit the right volunteers for the right study. The service is open to all – those with dementia, their carers and anyone who wants to improve the lives of people living with the condition.
If you are interested in helping to find a cure for dementia, the National Institute for Health Research is currently inviting people to take part in clinical research studies. To find out more, please visit www.joindementiaresearch.nihr.ac.uk
Howzat for a charity fundraiser?
The Province of West Kent organised the ideal opportunity to celebrate raising £3.25 million for the MSF at its Howzat! Festival day. The event featured a charity cricket match as well as arena entertainment and food and drink, and attracted Freemasons, their families and members of the local community to The Warren in Bromley.
Children were entertained by fairground stalls, bungee runs and a climbing wall. For others, there were beer and Pimm’s tents; performances by the Scout and Guide Marching Band; and a duck herder, who held particular interest.
The Province’s donation cheque was proudly displayed at its stand, which stood alongside stalls for the Masonic Fishing Charity and Hi Kent, a local charity for the deaf and hard of hearing. MSF Chief Executive Richard Douglas said, ‘It was a fantastic day and gave me the opportunity to meet the Freemasons of West Kent and thank them personally for their incredibly generous donations to the Masonic Samaritan Fund.’
2020 vision in Herefordshire
The Province of Herefordshire has officially launched its 2020 Festival Appeal by presenting an initial donation of £45,000 to the Masonic Samaritan Fund. Herefordshire Provincial Grand Master the Rev David Bowen opened the appeal at the Provincial Grand Lodge in June.
MSF President Willie Shackell received the donation from the Province and offered his sincere thanks for such a generous contribution towards the Fund’s work. He said, ‘Your generosity will make a tremendous difference to so many people waiting to receive the treatment and care they need to live healthy and independent lives.’
Jubilee research votes counted
To celebrate 25 years of generous donations from the masonic community, the MSF is awarding £1 million in medical research grants across England and Wales. Freemasons were invited by the Fund to vote for a research study shortlisted for support in their region by the doctors, consultants and care experts of the MSF’s Board of Trustees.
MSF Grants Director and Deputy Chief Executive John McCrohan said, ‘Each grant we award brings us closer to finding treatments and cures for the illnesses and disabilities that affect masonic families as well as the wider community. Thank you to all those who voted, we value your opinion and appreciate your support.’
The voting period is now closed, and results will be revealed via the MSF website and e-newsletter in September.
Festival target smashed by £1m
West Kent’s Festival for the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF) has exceeded its target by more than £1 million, with the grand total of £3,253,148 announced in the presence of Deputy Grand Master Jonathan Spence, MSF President Willie Shackell and MSF CEO Richard Douglas at Freemasons’ Hall in London.
Shackell outlined some of the MSF’s projects, while Spence congratulated Provincial Grand Master Jonathan Winpenny for such a successful result. The PGM told the Province, ‘Your generosity has touched and changed so many lives. Be very proud of what has been done by the whole of the Province.’
Father inspires marathon effort in Paris
A Freemason’s son was inspired to take on the 26-mile Paris Marathon by his father’s dedication to supporting the Masonic Samaritan Fund (MSF). Elliot Mason’s father, Robert, is a Metropolitan Grand Lodge Freemason from Perfect Ashlar Lodge, No. 1178. Elliot said,
‘I came to support the MSF through my dad, who is incredibly passionate about the work the charity does.’
Voting to determine which health and care charities will receive a share of the MSF's £1m Silver Jubilee Research Fund is now closed
Over 5,100 Freemasons made their voices count during June when they nominated one proposal, from an agreed shortlist of medical research studies, to receive a grant of up to £100k. Votes have been received from every Province across England and Wales, and from the Metropolitan Grand Lodge area.
The final allocation of funds will be confirmed by the MSF Trustees at their meeting in September, but early indications suggest significant support for research which aims to prevent, more accurately diagnose and treat cancers and degenerative diseases.
It remains the intention to invite senior members from across the Provinces, and from the Metropolitan Grand Lodge area, to present the awarded research grants to the winning charities. Full details of the recipient charities will be provided in September on the MSF's website and via the Fund's e-newsletter.
Thank you to all who participated and offered support to one of the shortlisted research projects. We value your opinion and appreciate your support.