New Year Launch of the Tom Walker AML PhD Scholarship Welcomed by Cancer Research Wales

Cancer Research Wales has welcomed the start of the PhD programme at Cardiff University, awarded in memory of a remarkable young man, Tom Walker.

The project aims to increase our understanding of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and find new ways to treat this type of aggressive blood cancer. Cancer Research Wales made the award to Cardiff University, funding the PhD of Theo Morin at the start of his scientific career.

The scholarship is in memory of Tom Walker, who was 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 undertaken 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 Tom’s name.

Speaking of the launch of the PhD studentship 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.”

“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 PhD scholarship is being undertaken 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.

Theo Morin

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 here 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 Andrew Sewell, concluded:

“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. AML is an area of intense research as it represents a real unmet clinical need, and by undertaking 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.”