On October 5th Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony were incredibly excited, and proud, to host our very first osteosarcoma symposium. The idea was first sparked a few years ago, but with Covid, train strikes, and a baby to contend with, October 5th was the finally the day!
The symposium brought together those who have battled the disease, clinicians, and researchers - connecting some of the brightest brains working hard to keep #kickingcancersbutt.
The day started with an emotional talk from Rachel Francis, Hannah’s mum. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room and Rachael bravely spoke about Hannah Louise Francis. Her incredible daughter, with an infectious smile, pure heart, and love of life (and horses!). A girl who had so much ambition, and so much life left to live.
Rachel shared the heartache of watching Hannah face excruciating pain before finally receiving the life-shattering diagnosis of osteosarcoma, 5-months after her first GP appointment, and 2 months after her initial X-ray. Whilst it was wished that the diagnosis, and subsequent treatment, would help take the pain away, Rachel shared the ‘helpless’ feeling of watching her daughter in horrendous pain, suffering the horrific side effects of treatment, and being unable to help. Despite this unbelievable pain, in true Hannah style, she took on the treatment like everything else in her life, with grit, determination, and a bucket list full of unbelievable ambition to work through.
Rachel’s talk was a reminder of why we were all gathered in the room, the incredible girl behind the charity, and the hope that in the future the research Hannah enables will help those facing the same diagnosis.
Rachel was followed by Dr Polly Bates, who shared a clinician’s perspective on battling the disease. Polly highlighted that osteosarcoma is a rare disease, 160 cases per year, and typically shows non-conclusive systems such as pain in young ‘healthy’ teens. As a result, early diagnosis is often missed. Which is worrying given survival rates are less than 20% if the disease has spread, which ~20% of cases have by the time they are diagnosed. What is even scarier than these statistics, is the limited progress in survival rates since 1970s (when chemotherapy was introduced) that Polly shared, which stressed the need for funding into more effective treatments.
Matt Clark, who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma 14 years ago, then spoke about the ‘luck’ and subsequent ‘guilt’ of being one of the survivors to beat the statistics. A family friend, and chance second look from a radiographer, meant Matt had a quick path from diagnosis to treatment. Whilst this saved his life, the lasting impact of the brutal treatment (a deaf left ear, and prosthesis in his leg) brought home the stark need for advancement in the archaic drugs.
Thankfully, Willberry’s team of researchers are working on just that! Throughout the day we heard updates from:
Belle Creith (University of Southampton) – using laser-free microscopy to identify abnormal collagen which may be a pre-cursor for osteosarcoma diagnosis
Hannah Smith (University of Southampton) – developing a 3-D osteosarcoma microenvironment for drug testing
Daniela Paternina Martinez (Middlesex University) – understanding the role of migratory bodies in osteosarcoma metastasis
Prof. Allie Gatland (on behalf of Victoria Tippett) (University of Sheffield) – developing an in-vitro model of chemo resistant osteosarcoma cells
Luke Tattersalls (University of Sheffield) – conducting high-throughput screening of drugs on chemo resistant osteosarcoma cells
Michael Dack (Kings College London) – understanding the role of macrophages in Osteosarcoma initiation, progression and metastasis.
In addition, there were insightful expert talks from Prof. Agamemmon Grigoriadis on the pathways of osteosarcoma, and Dr Helen Roberts on the role of autophagy in overcoming chemoresistance in osteosarcoma.
Team Willberry would like to send an enormous thank you to Alice Goring for organising, The Goring Hotel for having us (and feeding us so well!), the incredible researchers working so hard, and Hannah’s amazing supporters who have enabled this to happen.
But most of all, we would like to thank Hannah for always thinking of others, even in the most challenging of circumstances. Without her kindness, and ambition, to help those diagnosed with osteosarcoma in the future, we wouldn’t have been able to gather the clever scientists working to keep #kickingcancersbutt.
So, thank you Han, for reminding us to “Dream Big, Fight Hard, and Never Give Up” on #kickingcancersbutt. Hannah Francis, forever in our hearts and NEVER FORGOTTEN <3