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PLANETS has thanked its supporters after completing a £1 million fundraising campaign and making the final payment for a pioneering radiotherapy machine.
PLANETS Cancer Charity has been fundraising for the past six years to fully purchase Mobetron, a revolutionary mobile device which delivers radiotherapy during surgery – known as intraoperative radiotherapy (IORT).

When the charity installed it at University Hospital Southampton in 2016, clinicians there became the first in the UK to have access to it for patients and it remains the only centre in the country to offer the treatment.

While PLANETS primarily serves the needs of the regional population living across Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, the Isle of Wight, the Channel Islands and West Sussex, it is increasingly involved in national and international initiatives.

IORT is an intensive form of targeted radiation given at the time of surgery to treat a wide variety of advanced cancers that are difficult to remove and treat, with it initially being used to treat patients with pancreatic, neuroendocrine, colorectal and bladder tumours.

Using Mobetron – which is one-eighth the size of a standard external beam machine – the radiation is given by high energy electron beams delivered with precision to a very specific location inside the body immediately after a cancer has been removed.

Around 190 patients in the UK have been treated with the technology in Southampton since its introduction with impressive results, such as preliminary results for colorectal patients reported by the Video Journal of Oncology in 2018 and those for pancreatic cases reported in the British Journal of Surgery last year.

It is now subject to a national clinical trial for patients with advanced and recurrent colorectal cancer which are the most challenging tumours in the abdomen and pelvis.

Alex Mirnezami, professor of surgical oncology and consultant colorectal surgeon and member of the PLANETS clinical team, has pioneered the use of IORT in Southampton and is leading the landmark clinical trial.

He said: “To date the results show that the addition of IORT using Mobetron in addition to cancer surgery is advantageous for the patients treated and our findings are being presented regularly at major international cancer conferences.

“Without PLANETS and all of the charity’s supporters we would never have got to this point, so I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has played a part and made it possible by raising such a significant sum.”

PLANETS founders Layla Stephen, who is now its chief executive, Jo Green, it operations director (both neuroendocrine cancer patients), surgeon Neil Pearce and interventional radiologist Dr Brian Stedman now want to celebrate the landmark achievement and thank those who made it possible.

Alongside the efforts of many individuals and businesses to get it to this point, a £50,000 cash injection from the Dorset-based Robert White Legacy Fund kickstarted the project and was quickly followed by the charity’s 300km cycle from London to Paris in 24 hours which raised £65,000 and involved cancer patients, medics and nurses all cycling together.

In 2017, the charity ran its first ‘Scrap to the Future’ car rally which saw a team of doctors, nurses, management and patients take part in a major scrap car rally from Southampton to Loch Lomond with a variety of Top Gear-style challenges undertaken en route.

This event, organised by Regal Homes, raised £46,000 and was followed by ‘Scrap to the Future 2’ in 2019 – also organised by Regal Homes – which secured a further £30k while, in 2020, a TV appeal warning the impact of the COVID-19 on the charity’s ability to fundraise had put the future of Mobetron in doubt, donations flooded in.

Then, a significant legacy left by avid PLANETS supporter Glyn Maher pushed the campaign to another level and on course to reach the finish line.

Glyn actively supported PLANETS through local events and fundraisers and, as an ex-engineer, was enthusiastic about the new technology being used in cancer treatment such as Mobetron.

During his last year of life he promised his niece, Tori Caine – a PLANETS trustee – that he would leave a generous gift to the charity as Tori’s mother Linda is a 15-year survivor of pancreatic cancer – and this turned out to be a sum of £338,726.36.

“It has been a remarkable journey on the way to securing and paying off the Mobetron IORT machine and we simply cannot thank everyone enough for making it possible – and that goes for every single person who has contributed,” said Layla.

“There have been some really significant milestones along the way, such as Robert White’s initial donation to get us started, our immense car rallies, charity balls and other events and, of course, the huge legacy gifted to us by Tori’s uncle Glyn Maher of more than £330k.

“On behalf of Jo, Neil, Brian and all of the team, we thank you all so much for enabling us to make this happen and bring this development to patients in the UK – with the final total paid at £1,036,145.”

Mr Pearce, who specialises in pancreas, liver and neuroendocrine tumour surgery, said: “I said back in 2016 that the introduction of Mobetron and IORT was a landmark moment for the treatment of advanced cancer in Southampton and across the UK and the results to-date show that to be true – and we hope it’s impact will soon be even bigger.

“The way our supporters have bought into this project to not only make it a reality in the first instance but to then sustain it to the point of fully funding its purchase is truly amazing and something I am extremely proud of and grateful for.”

In addition to delivering Mobetron PLANETS, which helps patients with pancreatic, liver, abdominal (colorectal) and neuroendocrine cancer, has raised more than £1.8 million since its formation to patient support groups along with other innovative treatments and research.


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