08 Jan 2021

This researcher’s grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer while she worked from home during lockdown.

We spoke to Dr. Jennifer Munkley to hear how her work has been affected by the pandemic and how you can help save the lives of men like her Grandpa, with a gift in your Will.

Under another national lockdown we’re so grateful that labs remain open, and for the determination of our researchers, who are finding ways to continue their work despite some restrictions.

Last year, lockdown measures for labs were more severe, and they had to close temporarily which slowed some of our research progress. But despite the challenges, researchers like Dr. Jennifer Munkley kept working to keep their projects on track. Her Grandpa’s prostate cancer diagnosis last June made her even more determined.

Dr. Munkley’s work studies sugars that coat prostate cancer cells. She’s looking at how these sugars affect cancer growth, and if they can be exploited to improve diagnosis and treatment of aggressive disease. 

“All cells are covered in a thick layer of sugars. When sugars change in prostate cancer cells they can make the cancer much more likely to grow and spread. Drugs that block these sugars have already been successfully developed for other diseases, and we’re working hard to see if the same drugs could benefit men with prostate cancer.

We had a breakthrough last year, when we discovered a set of sugars in men’s blood which we believe can be used to accurately diagnose prostate cancer. With funding from Prostate Cancer UK, we developed a test that detects changes to sugars in blood. I knew this was something really important with the potential to help a lot of men. It’s early days, but we think this can be used to diagnose prostate cancer and help identify men who have aggressive cancers.

But our lab was closed in March, and all of our lab-based work was put on hold. The lockdown happened at a critical point for our project and it was absolutely devastating. Many people were in tears leaving the lab and not knowing when we would return, but of course, we knew this was needed to keep everyone safe. 

The lockdown happened at a critical point for our project. It was absolutely devastating.
Dr. Jennifer Munkley

We all continued to work from home, and it really surprised me how much we managed to achieve. We analysed data from home, worked on research papers and grants, planned experiments and had lots and lots of Zoom meetings. The lockdown also meant that I actually got to attend some important international conferences via zoom which I wasn’t planning to go to otherwise.

Initially it was very hard for me personally – I have a three-year-old daughter, so it was a bit of a shock with no childcare. After a few weeks, my husband and I got into a routine where I would look after Penny in the morning, then start working after lunch, and continue again after putting Penny to bed. My husband has been amazing – he knows what my research means to me and has been really supportive to help me keep working. 

We’ve made great progress on our project so far, and despite the lockdown I still think we’ll manage to get everything finished in time. My concern is that for our findings to make a difference to men with prostate cancer we need to do more work, and that means we need more funding from people like Prostate Cancer UK supporters to do this. Charities have really suffered due to coronavirus and it’s very worrying to think we might not be able to secure the funding we need to make sure our work benefits men.

In June, my Grandpa was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer that has spread to his bones. This news has been devastating, but it made me more determined than ever to keep fighting for men with prostate cancer.

It’s frightening to think that due to Covid-19 some of our progress could be delayed. If we lose momentum now it could take years to recover. Your support has made our work possible, but now more than ever we need your help to make sure our progress is not lost.”

Support the next generation of research with a gift in your Will

Researchers like Dr Munkley need your support to save the lives of men like her grandfather. Jennifer’s grandmother, says, “We’re very proud of the important work you are doing. We need clever people like you to keep working hard to help people like Grandpa and stop so many men dying from prostate cancer.”

A gift in your Will can support the next generation of research. For the month of January we’re offering you the opportunity to have your Will written or updated for free. Find out more here.