University of Sheffield cancer researcher named among Nation’s Lifesavers

Professor Thomas Helleday, a scientist from the University of Sheffield has been recognised for his exceptional contribution to keeping the nation healthy, through his research into cancer treatment.

An illustration of cancerous cells
  • Professor Thomas Helleday named among Nation’s Lifesavers by Universities UK for his exceptional research into cancer treatment
  • Professor Helleday’s team discovered a new treatment concept to prevent cancer cells from repairing
  • The MadeAtUni Nation’s Lifesavers campaign aims to bring to life the impact that university research has on everyday lives

Professor Thomas Helleday, from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Oncology and Metabolism, is one of the Nation’s Lifesavers – the top 100 individuals or groups based in universities whose work is saving lives and making a life-changing difference to health and wellbeing.

These have been named for the first time today (Thursday 16 May 2019) as part of Universities UK’s MadeAtUni campaign, which brings to life the impact of universities on everyday lives.

In 2005, Professor Helleday and his team discovered a new concept of using PARP inhibitors - a type of targeted intervention - to prevent cancer cells from repairing themselves.

His research was translated into a new approach for killing tumour cells and treating cancer, called the synthetic lethal approach, which has been described as one of the most exciting prospects for future cancer treatment.

This approach led to the development of a new cancer drug, called Lynparza, which has been successful in treating patients who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes - inherited DNA mutations that can lead to ovarian and breast cancer.

There are now lots of clinical trials exploring how PARP inhibitors could be used to treat a wide range of other cancers - including pancreatic cancer, which currently has a survival rate of less than one per cent for people living 10 years or more after diagnosis in England and Wales.

It’s a fantastic honour to feature as one of the Nation’s Lifesavers for our research into cancer treatments. Our work on the development of new treatments for cancer continues. It is indeed an exciting time for cancer research right now.

Thomas Helleday, Professor of Translational Oncology

The University of Sheffield | Department of Oncology & Metabolism

The Nation’s Lifesavers are fighting diseases, helping new parents and children enjoy the best start in life, supporting older people and improving our mental health and wellbeing. Universities from across the country were invited to nominate an individual or group who has made a significant contribution to the nation’s health and wellbeing. Over 200 universities in the UK submitted a nomination.

When people think of lifesavers they tend to focus on the dedication and skills of our doctors, nurses, carers and paramedics – many of whom are trained at universities. Every day, up and down the country, universities are also working on innovations to transform and save lives.

By working in partnership with charities, the NHS and healthcare organisations, universities are responsible for some of our biggest health breakthroughs. This campaign is a chance to bring to life the wonderful and unexpected work going on every day in our universities and celebrate some of the people working to make a life-changing difference to the nation.

Professor Dame Janet Beer

President of Universities UK

Research shows the public is proud of UK universities but has little understanding of the benefits they bring, with most being unaware that UK academics are behind many of the discoveries that save lives and keep us healthy.

The MadeAtUni campaign gives the public an insight into some of this work and celebrates those who make it happen.

More information on the campaign can be found on the dedicated website:

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