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New clinical trials the key to beating cancer



The value of clinical trials has been highlighted with the announcement that terminally-ill cancer patients could be “effectively cured” using a new combination of drugs heralded by scientists as a once-in-a-generation breakthrough.

The results of the trial have been described as “spectacular” with nearly 60% of patients with advanced melanoma having their tumours shrunk or brought under control by the use of the immunotherapy, which uses the body’s own immune system to attack cancerous cells.

Professor Roy Herbst of the Yale Cancer Centre in the US said immunotherapy could replace chemotherapy as the standard cancer treatment within the next five years and the potential for long-term survival or “effective cure was definitely there”.

In the international trial, 945 patients with advanced melanoma were given the drugs ipilimumab and nivolumab. The treatments stopped cancer advancing for nearly a year in 58% of cases, with tumours stable or shrinking for an average of over eleven months.

Mary Higgins from Annaghdown is one of 13,000 Irish patients who have taken part in a clinical trial.

In 2013, there were 16 Irish hospital sites participating in 102 clinical trials affiliated with The All-Ireland Cooperative Oncology Research Group (ICORG) – a 30% hike on the previous year.

Clinical trials get access to medicines not yet available in pharmacies but which have in the main been approved by overseas drug authorities.

It is now thirteen years since Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer as she was about to turn 41. She underwent a mastectomy and had her ovaries removed. She had chemotherapy in Galway and radiotherapy in St Luke’s Hospital in Dublin and was given the all-clear.

Eight years later a metastatic tumour was discovered in her hip. She had a pin inserted into the bone to reinforce the hip and underwent radiotherapy.

Last year she woke up with a horrific pain in her ribs overnight.

An x-ray revealed the cancer had returned, this time in her spine and ribs.

“When I say horrific pain, I mean really excruciating, I was barely able to get out of bed. They decided to treat the most severe areas with radiotherapy and that gave me some relief. I had scan after scan, check up after check up and my consultant Prof Maccon Keane who’ve I’ve been under from the beginning, said to me I’d be a great candidate for a clinical trial,” explains Mary.

“He said I’d have a one-to-one nurse, more checkups, very regular assessments and the chemotherapy was less severe.”

The clinical trial involved the chemotherapy drug Capecitabine, which is given orally instead of intravenously every day. After a year Mary and her medical team are extremely happy with the results.

“I have very little symptoms. I’m not sick. I haven’t lost my hair which is a huge factor. I’m able to function. I don’t look sick. I do it at home, I go in every six weeks for a scan and a check up and come home with my bag of tricks, which has the medicine for six weeks. It’s brilliant,” she says.

“I don’t want to count my chickens but it’s certainly working for me. This time last year I felt as if my ribs were broken. Now not a bother. I’m back walking again, I can do all my housework, baking, meet friends for coffee. I couldn’t paint the house now, but right now is Mary time so that’s fine.”

Mary took redundancy a year ago from an office job at O’Connor’s TV and Electronic Repair Services after 34 very happy years. She has the support of a “wonderful” husband Michael, three children, who are now aged between 23 and 17 and her sisters, which she describes as “class acts”.

“It’s been horrific on them. My youngest son was only four when I was diagnosed. They have more questions now, I can’t fob them off, I didn’t want to be using the word cancer, but now I tell them everything. They’re a great help,” she muses.

The main source of complaint from Mary is the financial burden of the disease – up until March she had to pay €144 a month for medication after being continuously refused a medical card but she still has to cough up for consultants (at one stage she was under three different ones) and hospital parking.

“There’s no point in lying down and crying about things. I take every day as it comes. You just get up and go. I had a privileged life except for the illnesses. I had the world travelled. I had wonderful holidays, a wonderful job. I’ve always been a positive person.”

Mary advises anybody going through cancer treatment to enquire about the possibility of a clinical trial.

“I still have a lot to go through myself, but I would encourage anyone who is considering treatment options to ask your doctor about clinical trials to see if they are an option for you. A clinical trial can offer you the best treatment and there is something nice about knowing that you are helping patients who are coming after you.”

Oncologist Dr Ray McDermott, interim head of the Ireland Cooperative Oncology Research Group (ICORG), said significant strides had been made in cancer treatment which is largely as a result of clinical trials.

“Every medicine that is available now is available because of the people who have participated in the trials that preceeded.,” he stated.

“Participating in clinical trials is not something to fear and our research demonstrated that almost 50 per cent of people participated in order to get access to medicines that are not currently available and at the same time contribute to the treatment options that will be made available to other people living with cancer in the future.”


Murals are part of initiative to restore pride in Ballybane estate



From the Galway City Tribune – A poem about litter forms part of a vibrant colourful new mural painted on the walls of a City Council estate in Ballybane.

The poetry and artwork by local artist Irene Naughton is part of an initiative to restore pride in Sliabh Rua.

The final two lines of Ms Naughton’s poem, called The Dragon’s Foot, read: “The land, the sea and the river all get hurt when we leave a littered footprint on the earth.”

The full poem was painted onto boundary walls as part of a large colourful mural that was created by Ms Naughton.

The street art includes handprints from children living in the estate on the city’s east side.

It also depicts an enchanted forest, a dragon sitting atop Merlin Castle, a view of the Burren, a wolf, butterflies, insects and foliage, as well as a man playing the guitar, a former resident who died.

Ms Naughton, who was commissioned by the City Council’s Environment Department, said it took about five days to complete.

“The residents were very, very helpful and kind,” she said.

Councillor Noel Larkin (Ind) explained that the mural was part of a wider, ‘Ballybane Matters’ project, which stemmed from Galway City Joint Policing Committee (JPC).

“We were doing a lot of talking at the JPC about anti-social behaviour, and it seemed to be more prevalent in the Ballybane area. When we boiled it down, it was in the Sliabh Rua and Fána Glas areas.

“Month after month it was just talking. So Níall McNelis [chair of the JPC] said we should set up a small group to hone in on exactly what was going on,” he said.

A group was formed to focus on improving the Council estate of about 40 houses.

As well as Cllr Larkin, it included: Sergeant Mick Walsh, Galway Garda Crime Prevention Officer and community Gardaí Maria Freeley, Nicola Browne, Kenneth Boyle and Darragh Browne; Fr Martin Glynn; Imelda Gormley of Ballybane Taskforce; Councillor Alan Cheevers; Donal Lynch, chairperson Merlin Neighbourhood Residents’ Association; and two members of Galway Traveller Movement, Katie Donoghue and Kate Ward.

Ms Gormley carried out a survey to get feedback from residents.

“A lot of the problems people had were horses on the green, people being harassed going in and out of estates, trailers full of rubbish left around the place, the City Council not cutting the grass, and anti-social behaviour,” explained Cllr Larkin.

Small improvements, with community buy in, has helped to revitalise the estate.

Cllr Larkin praised Edward Conlon, community warden with the City Council, who has been “absolutely brilliant”.

“He looked funding that was available to get trees or shrubs and to get the grass cut more regularly,” he said.

“Fr Martin got a residents committee set up because he knew people through the church, and that means there is community buy-in, people are actually taking an interest now.

“When we started originally, Sergeant Mick Walsh mentioned ‘the closed curtain syndrome’. You go into your home in the evening close your curtain and don’t want to see what’s going on outside. Whereas now, with community pride restored to the area, if somebody is acting the maggot outside, people are keeping an eye on it and that curbs anti-social behaviour,” said Cllr Larkin.

Covid-19 delayed the project but it “came together very quickly” once work started.

Cllr Larkin said that the project will move to other estates in Ballybane, including Fána Glas and Castlepark, but they also plan to maintain the progress made in on Sliabh Rua.

“We decided to concentrate on Sliabh Rua, because if we could crack Sliabh Rua we could crack the rest of them. Pride has been restored in the community,” added Cllr Larkin.

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QR codes hold the key to podcast tour of Galway City



From the Galway City Tribune – From singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s teenage days busking on the corner of William Street, to the rich past of the 14th century Lynch’s Castle on Shop Street, a new interactive tour of Galway City covers modern and ancient history.

Regional tour guide Jim Ward has created a series of podcasts detailing the history of eight places of interest in Galway City.

The Salthill native has created two-dimensional QR codes that are located at each of the eight locations, which allow visitors to download the podcasts to their smart phones.

Each podcast gives a flavour of the tours that Jim gives in ‘real-time’ when he leads hordes of tourists around the city’s famous sites.

The podcasts range from five to ten minutes and are located on or near buildings at the following locations: Eyre Square, William Street, Lynch’s Castle, the King’s Head, St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, the Latin Quarter, Spanish Arch and Galway Cathedral.

During the Covid-19 Lockdowns, Jim gave virtual tours by video through sustainable tourism website, Flockeo.

He has also brought Ukrainian refugees on tours through the city streets to allow them to become familiar with Galway’s rich history.

The podcasts are hosted on his website, and are accessed on mobile devices through via QR codes scanned onto posters.

Jim said he was grateful to the businesses of Galway, who have allowed his to put up posters on their premises near the sites of interest.

“I propose to ask Galway City Council for permission to place some on public benches and poles at a later date.”

He said the idea was to “enhance interactive tourism in Galway and bring connectivity to the city”.

He also has other plans in the pipeline, including rolling-out an interactive oral history of certain areas such as Woodquay.

This would involve interviewing local people of interest in certain historic parts of the city, which could be accessed through podcasts. The stories would be their own, or that of local organisations.

“The recordings would be accessed through QR codes on lamp posts or park benches and would provide a level of interactivity and connectedness with our historic town,” Jim added.

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Renters in Galway City have to fork out an extra €11,500 annually



From the Galway City Tribune – Renters in private accommodation in Galway City are paying, on average, around €11,500 more per annum than they were at the bottom of the market ten years ago.

According to figures published by property website this week, the average monthly rent in the city now stands at €1,663 – that’s up a whopping 138% since the market trough in early 2012, when it stood at around €700.

At the end of June this year, the average monthly rent had risen 16.4% – one of the biggest jumps in the country.

Nationally rents in the second quarter of 2022 were an average of 12.6% higher than the same period a year earlier, as availability of rental homes reached an all-time low.

County Galway has seen a similar pattern of increases – average rents stood at €1,184 per month, up 12.4% on the previous year. The averages have also more than doubled – up 132% – since the bottom of the market.

At the moment, there are fewer than 60 properties available for for rent in Galway city and county – the lowest figure recorded since the rental reports began in 2006.

A breakdown of the figures shows that a single bedroom in Galway city centre is renting for an average of €588 per month, up 19.5% on June 2021, while in the suburbs, a similar room is commanding €503 per month, up 15.9% on a year earlier. A double room is generating €633 (up 16.4%) in the city centre and €577 (up 19.2%) in the suburbs.

In the city, an average one-bed apartment is currently ‘asking’ €1,110 per month (up 17.3% year on year); a €1,297 for a two-bed house (up 15.6%); €1,542 for a three-bed house (up 16.9%); €1,923 for a four-bed house (up 21.8%) and €2,016 for a five-bed house, which is up 10.6%.

Ronan Lyons, Associate Professor of Economics at Trinity College Dublin and author of the Daft report, pointed to a resurgent economy which has accentuated the chronic shortage of rental housing in Ireland.

“The shortage of rental accommodation translates directly into higher market rents and this can only be addressed by significantly increased supply.

“While there are almost 115,000 proposed rental homes in the pipeline, these are concentrated in the Dublin area. Further, while nearly 23,000 are under construction, the remainder are earlier in the process and the growth of legal challenges to new developments presents a threat to addressing the rental scarcity,” he said.

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