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Cancer Focus NI awards £90,000 grant to Queen’s University for oesophageal cancer research

Susie Kennedy receives the Dr Jim Birnie Fellowship to study immunotherapy in oesophageal cancer, thanks to a £90k donation from the Birnie family to Cancer Focus NI. Pictured left to right: Research supervisor Dr Richard Turkington, Susie Kennedy, Ruth Birnie and Chief Executive of Cancer Focus NI, Richard Spratt.

Northern Ireland’s longest running cancer charity, Cancer Focus NI, has funded a three-year research fellow post at the Patrick G. Johnston Centre for Cancer Research. 


This substantial gift of £90,000, made possible thanks to the generosity of the late Dr Jim Birnie, a Trustee of Cancer Focus since 1985 and a member of the Ballymena Cancer Focus Group since 1973, will leave behind a legacy to honour a man who was committed to the advancement of cancer research. 


The announcement of the Dr Jim Birnie Fellowship will see a three-year research fellow Susie Kennedy, under the supervision of Dr Richard Turkington, advance the study into improving response rates to immunotherapy in oesophageal cancer at the Patrick G Johnston Centre for Cancer Research.  


Speaking on the importance of the investment, Richard Spratt, Chief Executive of Cancer Focus NI, said:

“Thanks to the generous donation of the Birnie family, we are delighted to once again be able to make a commitment to local cancer research at Queen’s University Belfast. The creation of the Dr Jim Birnie Fellowship not only showcases our charity’s commitment into understanding the causes and exploring the treatment of cancers of unmet need but leaves a lasting legacy to a man who was passionate about our charity and the importance of local research into the disease.” 


Every month, approximately 20 people are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in Northern Ireland. Only three in every 20 people diagnosed will survive for five years or more.

Leading the research team, Dr Richard Turkington, Clinical Reader at Queen’s University Belfast, said:

“Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of oesophageal cancer in the world and new treatment approaches are desperately needed. Immunotherapy has transformed the outlook for difficult-to-treat cancers by harnessing the power of the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells. However, it is only effective in 15% of oesophageal cancer patients. We hope to understand how immunotherapy can be best used to increase survival rates and improve the lives for all oesophageal cancer patients.” 


The late Dr Jim Birnie.

Speaking about her husband’s donation, Ruth Birnie commented:

"I’m deeply proud to know that my husband’s memory will be kept alive in a way that was important to him. My husband was passionate about the advancement of cancer research in Northern Ireland, and I am delighted to know that this donation will play a big part in developing therapeutic strategies that will help improve survival rates of people affected by oesophageal cancer." 


Committed to investing in local cancer research, Cancer Focus NI has donated almost £11.5 million since its establishment in 1969. The charity supports clinicians, scientists and students researching the causes and treatment of cancer.

To find out more about the work of the charity and how to get involved, please visit    


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