5p bags make priceless difference for cancer research in Wales

Welsh researchers are on track to make a life-saving medical breakthrough, thanks in part to a generous donation from a much-loved high street chain.

Value general merchandise retailer Poundland has donated an incredible £161,000 to Cancer Research Wales which is being used to support their study into bowel cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in Wales.

The donation is made up of the money raised via the 5p carrier bag charge in its stores across Wales, and will go towards the ground-breaking research being conducted by Professor Dean Harris and his team in Swansea University. This exciting three-year project will trial a newly developed diagnostic blood test that has the potential to accurately detect bowel cancers at a very early stage, possibly before symptoms occur.

In Wales, over 900 lives are lost every year to bowel cancer and late diagnosis is thought to be a significant factor behind these poor survival rates, as over half of bowel cancers are first detected when at an advanced stage, making them harder to treat, manage, and cure.

The symptoms of bowel cancer are non-specific, sometimes vague, and often similar to other common, less serious conditions prevalent within the general population.  Led by consultant colorectal surgeon, Professor Dean Harris, the team of scientists based at Swansea University have developed a simple blood test, that in future, may make it much easier for GPs to diagnose bowel cancer in suspected cases, the very first time people visit the surgery with symptoms.

The test uses a powerful, yet sensitive technique called Raman Spectroscopy, which works by shining a laser light through a sample of blood collected from patients. The final pattern of scattered light produced by the blood sample is used to create a molecular fingerprint, unique and specific for bowel cancer – much like detectives can trace a culprit from fingerprints and other evidence they leave at a crime scene.

Professor Dean Harris said “We are delighted that Cancer Research Wales is able to continue their support of our research work through their relationship with Poundland.

“CRW recognised the potential for the work when funding a PhD fellowship in 2013 and we have been delighted with the results to date. We have found that the single blood test has very high accuracy levels for either exclusion or confirmation of the presence of bowel cancer so that GPs can have a better diagnostic tool than any currently available to them.

“Although the test is only available within clinical trials at present we hope it can be more widely offered in the near future. The research team (Prof. Peter Dunstan, Cerys Jenkins and Rhys Jenkins at Swansea University) will be expanding the blood test into other areas in 2018 to include earlier detection of relapse in patients already treated for bowel cancer, and into other cancer types.”

Speaking about the decision to support Cancer Research Wales via carrier bag charges, Barry Williams, Managing Director said: “I’m delighted to be able to support Cancer Research Wales and the ground-breaking research they are doing in Wales which will have a big impact on bowel cancer survival rates. Over £161k has been raised from the carrier bag levy in Wales through our stores which is an incredible amount of money and will make a huge difference to the community”.

Liz Andrews, Charity Director at Cancer Research Wales, said: “Every donation to Cancer Research Wales, whether large or small, helps in the furtherance of our goals. This project shows how the efforts of individuals and organisations can make a true difference to the people of Wales.”

Legislation across the UK requires retailers to charge 5p per plastic bag given to customers. Of Poundland’s 43 Welsh stores, the Cardiff Queen Street store was the biggest contributor, closely followed by Rhyl.

Poundland is committed to reducing the number of bags in landfill and ensures all plastic bags sold in stores are made from recyclable material.