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ICR remembers Dame Deborah James

Dame Deborah James image - courtesy of @Bowelbabe Instagram

Image: Dame Deborah James. Credit: @Bowelbabe Instagram

The Institute of Cancer Research, London, has offered its heartfelt condolences to the family of Dame Deborah James, who has very sadly died after living for six years with bowel cancer.

Deborah, who was known to many as Bowelbabe, tirelessly worked to raise awareness of bowel cancer, championed the importance of cancer research, and helped so many people with their diagnosis by sharing her own experiences.

Raising millions of pounds

In early May, Deborah shared the sad news that she was entering into end-of-life hospice care at home. She recorded her last episode of the You, Me and the Big C podcast, which she co-founded and presented, and wrote her final column for The Sun newspaper.

In addition, Deborah launched the Bowelbabe Fund with the aim of raising £250,000. That total was smashed within hours and the fund has already reached more than £6 million.

Deborah shared that all money raised would be allocated, with the support of Cancer Research UK, to funding causes and projects that she really cared about – including precision medicine projects at the ICR and The Royal Marsden, as well as awareness raising programmes at Bowel Cancer UK.

Discovering the ICR’s research

Deborah was treated at the ICR’s clinical partner, The Royal Marsden, and she visited the ICR to speak at a patient event hosted by the institutions’ joint NIHR Biomedical Research Centre. She also met ICR researchers, such as Dr Paul Huang and Professor Clare Turnbull, while producing the podcast and a documentary about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on cancer. Deborah even had a ‘mini tumour’, or an organoid, made by Dr Marco Gerlinger in his lab at the ICR, using a sample of her tumour.

This technique of growing mini tumours from an individual patient’s tumour is a powerful research tool and could ultimately support more personalised treatment by allowing researchers to test how a person might respond to a number of different treatments and treatment combinations by giving them to their organoid.

Honouring Deborah’s incredible contributions

Earlier this year, Deborah and her podcast co-presenters, Lauren Mahon and Steve Bland, graciously accepted honorary doctorates from the ICR in recognition of their achievements through the podcast, which launched in March 2018. The ICR will posthumously award the honour to Deborah in September.

Professor Kristian Helin, Chief Executive of the ICR, said:

“We’re deeply saddened by Deborah’s death. She was an incredible campaigner and advocate for cancer patients and cancer research. It’s been amazing to see how she inspired so many people to support the Bowelbabe Fund – she leaves an important legacy both in raising awareness of the challenges of living with cancer and in raising funds to support cancer research.

“Through the You, Me and the Big C podcast and her regular newspaper column, Deborah reached so many people with her open and honest accounts of the impact cancer had on her life. Earlier this year we were delighted when she, and her co-presenters on the podcast, accepted an honorary doctorate for their contributions to the cancer community. We look forward to celebrating Deborah’s incredible life when we award those honours in September.”


Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust bowel cancer Cancer Research UK personalised medicine Kristian Helin Deborah James Bowelbabe Bowelbabe Fund Bowel Cancer UK
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