THE BLOG

Breaking Down Barriers to Understanding Research. In A Pub.

19/02/2015 18:00 GMT | Updated 21/04/2015 10:59 BST

Picture this. Four scientists perched on bar stools being questioned by men with a fatal disease. It might sound bizarre, but that's what happened when we lured some of our researchers out of the lab and into the Men United Arms; our own pub designed to get blokes together as part of our campaign to keep friendships - and friends - alive.

The Men United Arms (a pop-up takeover of London's landmark pub The Anchor Bankside), and the Men United campaign itself, is all about meeting men on their 'turf', and presenting the disease and the issues around it in a way men will engage with. But, for men with prostate cancer, and men who might one day be diagnosed with it, the science behind the disease and its treatment can be hard to relate to. Not to mention that gaping chasm that divides people who understand, and can actually speak, 'geek' (yes, that's geek, not Greek) and, well, just about everyone else in the world. To paraphrase Harrison Ford: "You can type this shit Professor, but you sure can't say it."

Scientists too - especially those whose work is more about understanding prostate cancer biology than developing new treatments - can sometimes feel like the clinical sterility of their lab is a long way from the living, breathing men behind the numbers. These men, when you stop to think about it, are the reason they get out of bed in the morning.

So we set out to bridge this divide. We brought men with prostate cancer and their families together with the scientists and doctors working to beat it, to start an open and frank conversation.

Why bother? Research really is the key to unlocking prostate cancer. Breaking down what can seem abstract concepts into a logical step by incremental step improvement in our knowledge of this duplicitous disease helps people engage with our work. Better levels of engagement and understanding help us raise funds to keep the wheel turning and improvements reaching men at their bedside.

To break down these barriers, we needed somewhere that everyone was comfortable in, and familiar with. Somewhere people have been hanging out to debate the meaning of life since time, well the pub trade, began. And so Pub Science at The Men United Arms was born.

Even without their white coats, these bar flies were a distinguished bunch on the night. Dr Christine Galustian from King's College London, Dr Joaquin Mateo from the Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, Mr Alastair Lamb from Cambridge University and Addenbrooke's Hospital, and Dr Dean Barratt from University College London didn't hesitate to give up their Saturday night to talk about what they do and how they do it.

Between them, the four experts could give the low-down on everything from medical imaging to immunotherapy, and from surgery to treating advanced disease. They knew the ins and outs of the increased risk of prostate cancer for black men (1 in 4 black men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 8 for other men in the UK), and put a spotlight on what all agreed was the defining issue in research - ways of distinguishing between men who might need treatment and men who won't. Former Rugby Union touch judge and Men United Ambassador David Kurk, kept pace with the ideas, keeping the scientists and spectators in line.

We're not just talking pleasantries and small talk here either. The audience hit the team with some tough questions, but our researchers did a great job of answering them seriously, sensitively and without a jot of jargon between them. Chemistry soon sparked between the scientists and civilians.

One of the researchers summed up the night perfectly. He said, "It's not just men who need to unite against prostate cancer, but us scientists too. None of us can do it on our own - and we know it." I couldn't agree more. There's more focus on this disease today than there has been in decades, and a lot of this is thanks to our own special friendship with the Movember Foundation, and our joint determination to find the best projects to invest in.

One chap, who has advanced prostate cancer, said that he came along because he still had questions about his cancer, and his doctors just hadn't been able to give him the answers. By the end of the evening, he felt he'd had the conversations he'd always wanted to have, but never had time for in his hospital appointments.

Another guest, whose husband will not recover from prostate cancer, said that although she knew that research was going on, and that it held promise for the future, this event, and the conversations she had with the scientists afterwards, made the medical and scientific developments she'd heard about real for her. She said she came away with a much better understanding of the disease, and why, although it is too late for her husband we all need to keep investing to beat this disease for the legions of other men who will be diagnosed in the future.

And that was exactly the point of the evening.

Well, that, and proving once and for all that you don't have to dig down too far to find that our scientists and men with prostate cancer have something fundamental in common. One way or another, they're all fighting to keep friendships alive.

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