Project Spotlight: All Island Cancer Research Institute
Posted: 23 November, 2022
The All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI) is a cross-border research programme, uniting institutions, researchers and other key stakeholders, with the aim of reducing fragmentation in research, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. AICRI aims to build critical mass in precision medicine and personalised healthcare, and to establish a virtual institute with linked facilities right across the island of Ireland.
Introducing the motivations for the project, Professor William Gallagher said:
One in two people living on the island of Ireland will develop cancer during their lifetime. The current Covid pandemic will lead to an increased cancer burden and many lost lives. In addition to adverse impacts on the health of the population, significant economic and societal impacts will also ensue. There is an urgent need for greater collaboration in cancer research throughout the island, facilitated by the establishment of an All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI). We will explore how AICRI can deepen North/South collaboration, enhance cancer outcomes and help to strengthen social, economic and political links on the island.
We asked the team at AICRI to tell us about the project: its origins, key objectives, challenges under Covid, and future hopes.
Would you say a little about the origins of AICRI?
The vision of the All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI) was originally developed by Prof. William Gallagher, Professor of Cancer Biology in University College Dublin, together with Ciaran Briscoe (CEO, Northeast Cancer Research and Education Trust) and Prof. Mark Lawler (Professor of Digital Health, Queen’s University Belfast). AICRI builds on over 25 years of cancer research on the island of Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement (1998) led to the All-Ireland Cancer Consortium (AICC)—a tripartite partnership between the Governments of Ireland and Northern Ireland and the National Cancer Institute in the USA. AICRI builds on this and other key cross-border partnerships to create an overarching framework for cancer research across Ireland. Over the past two years, the AICRI Institute Management Team, based in UCD, together with the broader AICRI Steering Committee, has done significant work in developing and promoting the AICRI vision further.
Could you give us an example of a key achievement of the project that showcases the importance of the collaborative motivations underpinning the project?
In 2022, AICRI investigators were awarded over €12 million in funding under the HEA North-South Research Programme (supported through the Shared Island Fund in the Department of the Taoiseach), including three large-scale projects (€4 million each) covering training programmes in precision cancer medicine, eHealth and liquid biopsies. One of these programmes, funded under the Partnerships of Scale scheme (Stand III), provides the foundation stone for AICRI through creation of an All-Island Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Research Training Programme in Precision Cancer Medicine, known as AICRIstart. Having ten academic institutions collaborating on the AICRI project was a key factor in the success of this funding application as it illustrated the motivation underpinning the project to create an all-island collaborative network.
How was the Covid 19 pandemic contributed to the urgency of AICRI projects?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disastrous impact on cancer care with cancer screening put on hold and many people being reluctant or unable to attend GPs which meant symptoms were often under-reported. It is estimated that one million cancer diagnoses were missed across Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic. This emphasises the urgent need for collaboration on an all-island basis to address the growing challenges of increased cancer rates in our society. It is predicted that one in two people living on the island of Ireland will be affected by cancer during their lifetime. Cancer knows no borders.
What are the core hopes for the future of AICRI?
The core hopes are that AICRI will continue to develop and expand over the coming years and create an overarching framework for cancer researchers on the island of Ireland. AICRI strives to become a global leader in cancer research, facilitating the transition of new discoveries into the clinic. It is also focused on developing a vibrant and innovative SME environment for the indigenous biotech industry in oncology and allied areas across the island. To achieve its goals, AICRI needs sustained support and additional large-scale funding that will support the institute in the long-term. This could be, for example, in the form of an Ireland/UK Co-Centre for Cancer Research and Innovation. Ultimately, AICRI hopes to continue to do social good by aiding the development of more personalised treatment options and improving the lives of those living with and beyond cancer.
On the 28th September 2022, the AICRI hosted a workshop: ‘Showcase: Vision and Progress’. The event opened with an address from An Taoiseach Micheál Martin as well as numerous sessions covering outcomes of recent stakeholder workshops, the AICRI’s funding successes, and the future of the AICRI. Footage from the conference is available here.
‘Exploring the Economic, Political, Societal and Health Benefits of an All-Island Cancer Research Institute (AICRI): Strengthening Collaboration in Cancer Research Throughout the Island of Ireland’ was funded through an Irish Research Council New Foundations Grant 2021 in the domain of Biological Sciences B. The centre was funded by the HEA North-South Research Programme.