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Cutting-edge Cancer Research at The Jack Birch Unit (JBU).

05 Oct 2021

We recently visited the Jack Birch Unit (JBU) based in the Department of Biology at the University of York.

The JBU is a research unit specialising in bladder cancer research and is funded by York Against Cancer.

York Against Cancer have supported the Jack Birch Unit since it first opened in 1991. The current Director, Professor Jenny Southgate, joined the JBU in 1999.

Jenny said, “The fantastic generous and continued support of the JBU from York Against Cancer is really important for helping us produce high quality research into understanding human cancer, particularly bladder cancer”.

Bladder cancer is the 10th most common cancer in the UK, however 49% of bladder cancer cases are probably preventable and if caught at an early stage, bladder cancer has an 80% survival rate.

Take a look at our website here and the University of York to learn more about the JBU and their research. Further information about bladder cancer can be found here.

Professor Jennifer Southgate, JBU Director, conducted a tour of the Jack Birch Unit – showcasing state-of-the-art equipment and technology funded by our charity.

York Against Cancer fund the salaries of several of the technicians and scientists working in the JBU, including PhD student Ryan Ellison.

York Against Cancer have also helped the scientific endeavour by purchasing pieces of equipment, such as the Li-COR Infra-Red Imaging System used for quantitative Western blotting analysis – a powerful technique used for analysing proteins.

Dr Joanna Pearson using the Li-COR equipment

The photo shows Dr Joanna Pearson using the Li-COR equipment donated by York Against Cancer.

Scientists in the JBU are hoping in the future to purchase a “Seahorse” – an instrument that can be used for measuring cell energy and metabolism, as this is one of the things that changes when cells become cancerous.

Dr. Andrew Mason – York Against Cancer Research Fellow

Jenny introduced the team of cancer research scientists who offered insight into their pioneering research projects – all of which are expected to help better understand bladder and other cancers and lead to better understanding and improved treatments.

We met with Dr. Andrew Mason who is a Research Fellow in Cancer Informatics in a York Against Cancer funded post. Andrew combines data gathered at the JBU with open-source cancer data to pinpoint patterns and mutations which could help develop treatments.

Dr. Mason said of his work “Every cancer has a unique set of mutations, and it’s difficult to know which changes are important if you look at each tumour individually. By working with DNA data from internationally-recognised patient cohorts such as the Genomics England 100,000 Genomes Project, we identify common features which help us to understand the disease, and, ultimately, lead to more personalised treatment”.

He recently put together an article ‘What can chickens teach us about cancer?’ for our newsletter which you can read here.

Dr. Jenny Hinley – URobank Manager and Senior Research Technician

We met with URobank Manager and Senior Research Technician Dr. Jenny Hinley who gave us a presentation about URoBank.

URobank is a Research Tissue Bank – based in the JBU – that collects, stores, and provides a repository for human tissues donated for research.

Dr Hinley said “We rely on patients who are undergoing hospital procedures, to donate small samples of tissue, blood or urine which can be used for future research. All tissues are donated with fully informed patient consent and the process has oversight of an NHS research ethics committee, to protect the rights and wellbeing of research participants.

The role of a tissue bank is to provide access to human tissue for research scientists. URoBank is a specialist tissue bank, supporting research into diseases and cancer of the bladder and urinary system.  Our vision is that URoBank will further our knowledge about what causes these diseases and help scientists to develop new therapies.

Support Us

Funding this lifesaving research is only made possible thanks to the incredible community of supporters and donors that we have at York Against Cancer. We know how lucky we are to benefit from the help of the York and the North and East Yorkshire communities.

If you would like to get involved with our charity – from donating to volunteering – please get in touch on 01904 764466 or email