World-leading childhood cancer experts will be drawn to new research centre

The Future Fund research centre will bring more first-class experts in children's cancer to Newcastle

Mike Urwin Leukemia patient Cleo Rimmer (9) from Cumbria
Leukemia patient Cleo Rimmer (9) from Cumbria

World-leading experts in childhood cancer will be attracted to the North East thanks to a planned £5.5m research centre.

The Future Fund, which aims to raise £5.5 million to create the Newcastle University Centre for Childhood Cancer, will bring more first-class experts in children’s cancer to Newcastle, as well as helping to nurture home-grown talent.

The fund is a collaborative project between Newcastle University, North of England Children’s Cancer Research and The Great North Children’s Hospital and has already attracted the attention of a young cancer sufferer.

Twelve-year-old Cleo Rimmer has been inspired by children’s cancer specialist Professor Josef Vormoor, whose treatment saved her life, and now wants to become a professor in cancer research.

Prof Vormoor has been caring for Cleo since her leukaemia was first diagnosed in 2008 when she was six.

“Cleo jokes that she will one day take over Josef’s job,” said her mum Yvonne. “They have such a giggle together and she tells him that he can work for her as her cleaner when she’s got his job.

“She wants to be a professor after watching what Josef does and who knows, one day she might be. Experiences like this make you who you are.

“I didn’t even know what leukaemia was when Cleo was diagnosed but I’m almost an expert myself now. Having it all explained to you by someone like Josef really helps you understand what is going on.”

Cleo’s leukaemia was diagnosed when Yvonne became worried about bruising to her daughter’s body, fatigue and her pale complexion. That same day she was transferred from Cumbria to the Great North Children’s Hospital in Newcastle where tests revealed Cleo had developed acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), a cancer of the white blood cells, which is the most common childhood cancer.

The Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle
The Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle

She then began a six-month course of intensive chemotherapy but endured many complications.

Despite the setbacks, Cleo responded well to treatment and her family were overjoyed with the news in 2011 that she was in remission. Two years later, however, they were devastated to find themselves again facing the challenges of chemotherapy after tests revealed the disease had returned.

Cleo is now halfway through a three-year course of treatment from Prof Vormoor and colleagues at the Great North Children’s Hospital.

“We thought Cleo was in the clear. We were just starting to relax and then two years down the line it is back again,” said Yvonne. “She had been doing great and then she developed this awful cough that just wouldn’t go away. When the doctor took her bloods it was clear the leukaemia was back. Obviously they are the words that you dread hearing. We were devastated.”

Cleo has been put forward to take part in a trial which aims to reduce the side effects of treatment.

Prof Vormoor said the trial Cleo is taking part in is an example of the work that the new Newcastle University Centre for Childhood Cancer will focus on – to develop better therapies for its young patients.

“The thrombus Cleo developed in her brain during her first round of treatment was a side effect of her treatment rather than her leukaemia and it nearly cost her life,” he said.

“Cleo’s cancer journey also demonstrates that we not only need to identify less toxic but also more efficient treatments, particularly for those of our patients whose leukaemia responds poorly to standard chemotherapy.”

He said Cleo has been a star patient throughout her treatment. “Her positive outlook on life, her enthusiasm and sense of humour is an inspiration to us all,” he said.

“She is a real fighter and I hope she continues to do well on treatment. We can learn so much from our young patients and Cleo is a perfect example of this. Some of our patients indeed go on to become nurses, doctors or researchers and join the quest to find better treatments for cancer.”

Yvonne is backing the Future Fund’s aim to provide state-of-the-art facilities to bring together the specialists working to improve childhood cancer treatments and reduce their side effects.

She said: “The diagnosis is just the beginning. You have no idea what an impact it is going to have on the whole family and everyone’s lives. One of the hardest things for me has been the fact that I’ve had to see my little girl go through so much and at the same time I’ve seen so little of my other children.”

• The Future Fund

The Future Fund aims to raise £5.5 million to create the Newcastle University Centre for Childhood Cancer, a specialist children’s cancer research facility at Newcastle University. How to donate: online via the Just Giving page found at , texting NCFF01 with the amount you would like to donate to 70070 or by calling 0191 208 7250 or in person at The Journal, Groat Market, Newcastle. Get involved on Facebook/futurefundnewcastle, on Twitter @FutureFundNCL and use the hashtag #NCLFF


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