Sydenham High Alumna co-founds BlackinCancer

Sydenham High Alumna co-founds BlackinCancer

2 November 2020

October was an even busier month than usual for alumna Sigourney Bell or ‘Siggy’ (Class of 2009). Not only is she a 2nd year PhD student at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge, she is also the co-founder of Black In Cancer, an organisation which aims to strengthen networks and highlight Black excellence in cancer research and medicine. Black in Cancer ran a week of events from 11 – 17 October across social media platforms highlighting the contributions of Black researchers, physicians and patient advocates working in cancer research and medicine.

After completing A Levels in Biology, Chemistry and Physics at Sydenham High School in 2009, Sigourney gained her undergraduate degree from the University of Leeds in Human Physiology, then went on to work for both Pfizer and AstraZeneca in Neuroscience and Oncology respectively. Her PhD research centres on developing novel models and therapeutics for paediatric brain tumours, more specifically supratentorial ependymoma. But outside of her research, Sigourney is equally passionate about scientific outreach and encouraging the next generation of Black students into STEM subjects:

“This period has seen the beginning of critical changes for the Black community and it is so important to continue this momentum. This time is about acknowledging and celebrating the contributions that Black people have made to the UK, which can often go unnoticed.”

So what does Black In Cancer hope to achieve?

“We wanted to create an all inclusive community,” explains Sigourney in a recent interview with Forbes Magazine online

“Research within the lab is not the only way we can work towards more people surviving cancer. Within the Black community, we need more cancer education as well as to build those support networks for those with cancer. Our aim was to create a holistic environment to network, support and educate all Black people that either work in or are affected by cancer,” she added. Black people with cancer often experience huge disparities in survival, provision of care and access to clinical trials for experimental treatments.

She co-founded Black In Cancer along with fellow research scientist; Dr Henry J. Henderson III, a postdoctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Together, they head up an extensive organising committee of researchers and physicians who scheduled several online events during the week. Sponsored by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Tigerlily Foundation and Cancer Research UK, they covered topics from career advice and networking to cancer advocacy and survival disparities. The week was a huge success with 80.5 million impressions on twitter and a number of sponsors hoping to continue this work moving forward.

What impact do the organizers hope that Black In Cancer Week will have going forward?

“We hope that people will feel more knowledgeable about cancer and more empowered about their health decisions. We hope that researchers are able to find and build their network and that young Black STEM students are able to see what they are able to aspire to,” said Bell, adding that future plans include cancer education initiatives and also mentorship programmes for students both in the US and the UK.

We were delighted to welcome Sigourney back to judge the finalists of the 2020 #700STEMChallenge writing competition at school in March. She had the task of judging the Engineering category and had some inspiring words to say to the finalists from the fourteen schools from across the UK. We hope to see her back at school again soon.

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