As a recent arrival in Southampton, I was grateful to be invited to apply for funding for a PhD studentship from the Oddfellows Society, an organisation that was new to me (more of which below). Happily our proposal to study the role of RNA editing in generating neoantigens in cancer cells together with Professor Edd James, was selected from amongst a list of 27 submitted from different universities across the UK and the award of £100,000 was formally confirmed at the Oddfellows’ annual conference in May.
The Office for Development and Alumni Relations and in particular, Katherine De Retuerto, was instrumental in providing this opportunity. As part of her fundraising efforts on behalf of the Centre for Cancer Immunology (CCI), Katherine has spent a lot of time in Guernsey, where she met members of the Guernsey Oddfellows and learned of the H.A. Andrews Memorial Fund, which has been supporting medical research at UK institutions since 1971. Our application was supported by Guernsey Oddfellows and I had the pleasure of attending their 175th anniversary celebration in beautiful St Peter Port on a sunny Friday in July, to thank them in person and to talk about our project with the guests and in an interview with BBC Radio Guernsey.
During my day in Guernsey (a very easy flight from Southampton Airport – I’m hoping I can return at some point to update them on progress!), I learned that Oddfellows fraternities exist throughout the world and that they originally formed to protect workers and their families from destitution. In the 18th century, Oddfellows branches (lodges) often had a resident surgeon who would provide medical treatment for members and indeed, Dr James Parkinson, after whom Parkinson’s disease was named, is depicted in this role in a painting from 1789. Since primary healthcare is not covered by the NHS in the Channel Islands, Guernsey Oddfellows is almost unique among UK Oddfellows lodges in that it still acts as a major non-profit healthcare provider, so is well-known to the islanders. For more serious conditions such as cancer, residents will often be referred here to Southampton General Hospital; as a community they have been generous supporters of our research, most recently through donations to the CCI and indeed, Dame Phyllis Somers, who provided the funds for the Somers Building in which I write this, was herself a channel islander.
We interviewed some excellent applicants for the studentship and look forward to welcoming the successful candidate (Nur Zainal, from Malaysia), in September, when she will join the 2022 cohort of students on our MRC Doctoral Training Partnership programme. In November, members of the Guernsey Oddfellows lodge will visit us in the School of Cancer Sciences, to meet Nur and to get a broader picture of the research happening at the CCI and across the Faculty. Thank you ODAR and Oddfellows!