Involving people affected by cancer in Cancer Grand Challenges

Margaret Grayson

The Cancer Grand Challenges Advocacy Panel 

In 2020, Cancer Research UK joined forces with the US National Cancer Institute to found Cancer Grand Challenges: a global funding initiative that provides world-class, diverse teams of researchers with up to £20million to come together, think differently and find solutions to some of cancer’s toughest challenges. They see patient involvement as integral to achieving significant progress in cancer research. People affected by cancer have been embedded in the initiative from the start, including helping to identify and shape the biggest research challenges we face in beating cancer. 

Margaret Grayson lives in Belfast and was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. As she went through her treatment, she realised the role research played in determining her treatment plan. In 2015, Margaret attended Cancer Research UK “Big Think” to answer some of the toughest challenges in cancer. This was the start of her passion for patient involvement and led to her participation in Cancer Grand Challenges. 

“I’m part of the Cancer Grand Challenges Advocacy Panel, formed to help determine how teams can best involve people affected by cancer in their research. I’m chair of this panel, and our strength is that we’re individuals from varied backgrounds. We bring different life skills, experiences, a range of perspectives – but we work as a team because we have a common bond. All of us have been impacted by cancer and we’re passionate about research to tackle the most difficult cancer challenges.

We review the involvement and engagement strategies of the shortlisted proposals and provide feedback to develop these ideas into feasible plans that truly adds value to research, to ultimately benefit people. As chair, I also sit on the Scientific Committee and attend interviews where I ask questions to researchers about their involvement and engagement plans. 

Personally, it’s been a growing and learning experience. Blending together the expertise of the scientists and the experience of those of us affected by cancer has been the strength of Cancer Grand Challenges.

During my treatment, seven of us who were cared for in the same centre developed a friendship, united by this common bond. Five years later, I’d been to the funerals of my six friends. To me, Cancer Grand Challenges and the impact from answering the toughest questions in cancer research might mean that seven patients who become friends in a cancer unit now or in the future might be friends for longer than five years. 

Being part of Cancer Grand Challenges is exciting and rewarding, and it is a privilege to play a small part in something so big."


To keep up to date with Cancer Grand Challenges you can subscribe to their newsletter via the website or follow the initiative on Twitter and LinkedIn. You can find out more about how people affected by cancer get involved in our work when they join our patient Involvement network.

People like Margaret get involved in our work in a range of different ways, from taking part in our surveys to becoming members on our panels and focus groups. Find out more about our network and how you can join.

Involvement network