Channelling energies

16/08/2006

IT'S a little-known fact that more people have climbed Mount Everest than have swum the English Channel. But on 31 August, Roger Allsopp will attempt to go some way to redress the balance and he'll be swimming to raise money for ground-breaking cancer research.

I can't fail, jokes the 65-year-old retired surgeon who was awarded an OBE in 2004 for his services to medicine. I wouldn't be able to come back to Guernsey.  Roger is no stranger to fund-raising, especially in his work for Hope for Guernsey, the charity he chairs, and his past aquatic adventures have included swimming from Guernsey to Alderney, between some of the Greek Islands and across Bavarian lakes.

Although he has worked for many worthwhile causes, few perhaps have had such a fascinating beginning or potentially exciting future.

Between 1961 and 1991, around 11,000 Guernsey women donated samples of blood and urine to the Imperial Cancer Research Fund for what turned out to be pioneering research into breast cancer.

Guernsey was chosen because of its stable population, says Roger.

The blood samples were frozen at minus 20 degrees and are, in effect, a series of time capsules of information that, it is hoped, will provide a means of detecting cancers at a very early stage.

One important finding was that women who developed breast cancer tended to have raised blood levels of oestrogen. This led to the administration to high-risk sufferers of the partial anti-oestrogen drug, Tamoxifen.

Recent advanced tests have made it possible to distinguish protein markers in the blood of cancer patients that differentiates it from that of those without cancer.

The new research based on the Guernsey samples could determine whether it is possible to predict the onset of cancer by blood alone.

Although 11,000 women volunteered, there are only 15 useable samples of blood from patients who had cancer at the time and these are being compared with samples from people who were free of it.

There are also samples from 15 patients who developed breast cancer within five years of giving blood.

The first test has already been run and we're awaiting the results, says Roger. The next test will be urine, which will be even more exciting. At the end of this year, however, the samples will be harder to access, as they will join thousands of others in storage.

The Guernsey project is only a very small part, says Roger. If we can open a door and let a chink of light in, it will give us a clue on where to go.

The study is being conducted by Dr Paul Townsend, a research scientist and lecturer, and other members of his department of human genetics at the University of Southampton.

It is being funded through a Hope innovation grant and this involvement with a home-grown charity, coupled with the fact that the initial study was in-island, gives the whole project an appropriately Guernsey label.

But potentially the most exciting part of the project is that it could be transferred to diagnosing other types of cancer, such as ovarian.

If the first part goes well, says Roger, we'll be looking to liaise with a major centre for ongoing study.

Phase one is estimated to cost £15,000 and Roger, an experienced competitive swimmer, is determined to raise the money by swimming the channel.

He anticipates that the 22-mile journey will take him around 14 hours.

It's been niggling at my mind to do it for a few years but I've had to acclimatise myself, he says. I spend as much time in the sea as possible, three or fours hours a day, but I couldn't do it before I retired. Then, with a smile, he says: There are not many OAPs who do this. Free bus pass or not, Roger has certainly put in the hours when it comes to training.

A recent trip took him to Dover to meet Freda Streeter, mother and trainer of Alison Streeter, the so-called Queen of the Channel, who has clocked up

43 crossings, including one three-way crossing.

Freda lives in London but travels to Dover every weekend to coach people, completely free of charge, on how to cross the channel.

I did seven hours on the Saturday and six hours on the Sunday, says Roger.

There were people from Japan, New York and Australia and I thought that I'd come a long way. He found the weekend very educational and in particular learnt the importance of nutrition.

We'd come in after every hour and Barry nicknamed the pebble-stomper would march along the beach and provide us with something to drink, which was a thick gooey fluid. He also learnt the dangers of swimming the often-impenetrable stretch of water between Dover and Cap Gris-Nez.

The difficulties are forces outside yourself. A force two or three wind makes it very difficult. And it was external forces that persuaded him to come clean to the public about his Channel crossing.

The idea was to slip away nice and quietly but when a friend said that they would donate a large sum for cancer research if I did the swim, I came out of the closet. Although Roger has been raising funds for many years, he still can't believe the generosity of people particularly locals.

I can go in The Rockmount and people just give me money, he says. "Here's a tenner!" they say. I have to leave early or I'd spend it. The Pink Ladies has been generous and have come up with a substantial donation for the swim and Roger will be taking along Barney, its pink teddy bear mascot.

And Derek Coates, chief executive of Healthspan, will match like for like the remaining donations to reach the phase one target of £15,000 and will also promote the research through his magazine.

It's very difficult to get funding these days that is truly independent, says Roger.

In typical Allsopp fashion, though, the swim is just one project he has lined up in his duties for Hope.

Before he leaves, I shake Roger's hand and wish him the best of luck. And then I wonder when he'll be climbing Mount Everest.

All the money raised by Roger's swim will go directly to the project for reagents and materials and will be channelled through Hope for Guernsey (Wessex Medical Trust).

Anyone wishing to make a donation is asked to do so by cheque, made payable to Hope for Guernsey (endorsed on the back Guernsey Cancer Project) and sent to Lara Le Pelley, The Medical Specialist Group, PO Box 113, Alexandra House, Les Friteaux, St Martins, GY1 3EX, or directly to Mr Allsopp, Le Douit Farm, Grande Rue, St Saviour's, GY7 9JP.

Guernsey Press 10th August 2006

 



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