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About The Howat Foundation

The Howat Foundation was founded by Malcolm and Margaret Howat in 2009. We support translational research benefiting general cancer patients through the University of Glasgow, whose mission is to undertake world-leading research that benefits society. The support is provided by way of donations and direct funding of medical staff, purchase of equipment and contributions to capital projects, all with the purpose of furthering ground breaking advances.

The Howat Foundation supports The Paul O'Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre. The support focuses on the work of Professor Tessa Holyoake, Director of the Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre. This includes the appointment of Dr Karen Keeshan in Paediatric Haematology and the appointment of Professor Andrew Biankin as Regius Chair of Surgery and Director of Translational Cancer Research at the University of Glasgow.

Through the Howat Foundation, Sir Alex Ferguson turned his attention to the fight against cancer when the former Manchester United manager unveiled a plaque commemorating the donation of £1 million towards the next phase of The Beatson Pebble Appeal. The donation was in addition to the previous support given by the Foundation to cancer research at the University of Glasgow.

Professor Jeff Evans, Director of the Institute of Cancer Sciences at the University of Glasgow, said: “We’re very grateful for this donation from the Howat Foundation; as a scientist there is nowhere in the world better to work on cancer research than Glasgow. The provision of up-to-date facilities and equipment is vital to attracting world-class cancer research scientists from all over the world and the second phase of the Beatson Pebble Appeal will continue to play a vital role in helping us.”

Sir Alex, who was also presented with an honorary degree from the University of Glasgow in recognition of his major contribution to sport said: “It is an honor to visit this new research facility that will help in the fight against cancer. I am delighted The Howat Foundation has kicked-off the next stage of fundraising with such a generous donation. For too long Glasgow has been the cancer capital of Europe, and like many people over the years I have seen family and friends afflicted by the disease. I hope that investment in research facilities like this will help us beat cancer and improve the health of the people of Glasgow, Scotland and beyond.”

Professor Anton Muscatelli stated: “The Howat Foundation have provided an extremely generous donation to launch the next phase of the Beatson Pebble Appeal. I am extremely grateful to Malcolm and Margaret Howat for this and previous gifts.”

The Malcolm and Margaret Howat Chair in Clinical Oncology

In collaboration with the University of Oxford and the Churchill Hospital Cancer Centre, The Howat Foundation is pleased to announce their support of a very promising new clinical trial being run by Dr Geoff Higgins at the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre.


The trial will investigate the effects that a safe and widely available anti-malarial medicine (called atovaquone) has on tumour hypoxia. Hypoxic (oxygen starved) tumour cells behave more aggressively and are harder to treat effectively than ‘normal’ tumour cells.  However, in Oxford, researchers have shown that this anti-malarial drug eradicates tumour hypoxia and makes the tumours far more sensitive to radiotherapy treatment.

If the ATOM trial demonstrates that this medicine exerts the same effects in patients it may mean that this drug can be used in combination with radiotherapy to dramatically improve treatment for future cancer patients.


Following a successful project with the Oxford Institute for Radiation Oncology headed by Professor Geoff Higgins, in July 2022 the Foundation continued its support of clinical oncology with a donation of £3M and secured an additional £1.5M from the Oxford Endowment Fund.

The £4.5M endowment has been invested in the Oxford Endowment Fund with the returns being used to establish an endowed professorial post in Clinical Oncology called “The Malcolm & Margaret Howat Professorship of Clinical Oncology”. This will initially create a single-tenure Professorship which will continue in perpetuity with Professor Geoff Higgins being the first holder of this post.

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University of Glasgow Projects & People Funded

Dr Vignir Helgason

Vignir thanks The Howat Foundation

In 2013, following successful Fellowship applications, Dr Vignir Helgason relocated from the Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre to the recently opened world-class Wolfson Wohl Cancer Research Centre to setup his own research group “Leukaemia and Autophagy Therapeutics”. Recently his laboratory has, in collaboration with Cancer Metabolism Research Unit at the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute, optimised protocols for metabolic assays using rare stem cells and already identified targetable metabolic dependencies in chronic myeloid stem cells. The Howat Foundation has supported the group and this research theme. The support will allow the team to appoint more staff to test promising drugs and further support the search for metabolic abnormalities in other stem cell driven leukaemias, such as acute myeloid leukaemia, where improved therapy options are urgently needed.


Dr Zuzana Brabcova



Dr Zuzana Brabcova is a Bio-Informatician and Computational Biologist, whose post is funded by the Howat Foundation. Dr Brabcova is a post doc in Dr Vignir Helgason’s lab, which has identified that Leukaemic stem cells which give rise to Leukaemia are very metabolically distant from normal stem cells. As a computational scientist she is working with numbers to show exactly how different Leukaemic stem cells are from normal stem cells. She is aiming to find out how they differ and how to target their vulnerabilities or “Achillies Heels”. Supporting Dr Brabcova is part of the Howat Foundation’s continued support for Vignir’s lab.


Flow Cytometry Unit


The flow Cytometry Unit which has been supported by the Howat Foundation is located within the Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre at the University of Glasgow.  This Unit consists of a two flow cytometers, “FACSAria” – a cell sorter and “FACSCantoII” – a cell analyzer.  These machines play an integral role to all research programmes, enabling us to isolate and characterise rare cell populations with leukaemic potential from a larger population of cells. The goal of the Unit in October 2010, when we received funding from the Howat Foundation was to generate a reliable cell sorting service and flow cytometry facility for departmental and external users, which would be self-funding.  We aim to realise that goal over the next two years, which without funding from the Howat Foundation, would have taken significantly longer.

Dr Karen Keeshan

The Howat Foundation supported the recruitment of Dr Karen Keeshan as a Senior Lecturer to the Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre in the Institute of Cancer Sciences in 2012. The purpose was to establish a leader in leukaemia research with a specific focus on childhood leukaemia. The focus of research in the lab is on understanding the genes that have gone awry in adult and childhood acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) with the longterm goal of improving childhood therapy. Using cutting edge technologies and model systems, the Keeshan lab are investigating the mechanisms leading to the differences in childhood and adult AML. Work in the lab includes studies that will provide important biological information on the drugs used in the newly opened childhood AML clinical Trial, MyeChild01. This work aims to provide a novel insight into the clinical treatment of AML and highlight the differences that should be considered clinically in paediatric and adult AML. The collaborative links generated and projects ongoing in the lab as a result of The Howat Foundation funding has significantly advanced the research capabilities in childhood AML in Scotland and the UK. Tangible patient benefits in the form of the MyeChild01 clinical trial in childhood AML highlights how this funding has accelerated research into this disease. 

Follow the progress of the work from the Keeshan lab and the Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre on twitter (@kkeeshan, @POG_LRC, @BICR, @GUcancersci), facebook (Friends of Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre, Glasgow) and university webpages


Fluidigm Biomark



In November 2010, The Howat Foundation helped fund the purchase of a Fluidigm Biomark to enable researchers at the Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre (POG-LRC) at the University of Glasgow to undertake affordable high throughput gene expression analysis. The Biomark Dynamic Array CHIP uses thousands of intertwining microfluidic valves and channels on a silicon chip to combine the cDNA (genetic material) with the probes (specific to the gene of interest). High-throughput gene expression analysis can be conducted on cDNA from pooled cells, or tissue samples (such as biopsies), or from single cells.
Since it was purchased this machine has been extensively used by researchers at the POG-LRC to investigate pathways involved in leukaemia. The Biomark has been used to investigating genetic changes in Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia, Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia, Lymphoma and Polycythaemia Vera. Data generated has been included in several manuscripts and presented at both national and international conferences. In addition other members of the University have used this machine as well as researchers from the University of Edinburgh, University of Cork, and the Western General Hospital Edinburgh.



Dr Xu Huang

Dr Xu Huang was appointed in July 2014 as new lecturer/group leader. He received funding from the Howat Foundation to set up his research group, titled as the Haemato-oncology/Systems Medicine laboratory within the Paul O’Gorman Leukaemia Research Centre, University of Glasgow. The lab has recently identified and validated few potential candidates as therapeutic treatment targets in Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. The future research will focus on epigenetic regulation in leukaemia cancer stem cells, and continue to identify novel pathways and targets in leukaemia by using combinations of different systems biology approaches and by exploring novel polyomics methods in the study of cancer stem cells. Currently Huang’s laboratory is comprised of one post-doctoral research assistant, Dr. Niamh Mannion, who is also supported by the Howat Foundation, and one PhD student and two more PhD students are expected to join Huang’s group later this year. 

Professor Andrew Biankin


Professor Andrew Biankin is the Director of the Wolfson Wohl Cancer Research Centre which has received support from The Howat Foundation. This Centre is focussed on taking the latest cutting edge scientific discoveries and translating them into improved treatments for people with cancer.  Our major focus is precision medicine, also called personalised medicine in order to match the right treatment to the right patient.  This is through a deep understanding of what makes each individual cancer tick at a molecular level and then either using the treatments we already have much better, or discovering new treatments for cancers such as leukaemia, pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer and brain cancer as well as several others. The laboratory is equipped with the latest technologies to look deep into cancers and to find the right existing treatment, and to discover new vulnerabilities, or “Achilles heels” that can be targeted for treatment.


Professor Tessa Holyoake


Professor Holyoake, a world-renowned expert in Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia (CML) and one of the most exceptional scientists and clinicians of her generation, died peacefully on 30 August 2017, aged 54.

The work of the Holyoake team, which has been supported by The Howat Foundation, focuses on understanding the inner workings of stem cells in the blood cancer chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML). Patients diagnosed with CML are treated with oral medication called kinase inhibitors. These drugs have been rationally designed to block the function of the driver cancer gene BCR-ABL. However the Holyoake team has shown that in CML the stem cell population is much less sensitive to kill by kinase inhibitors. 

This is of key importance because it is this stem cell population that gives rise to CML in the first place, maintains the disease in the face of kinase inhibitors, is responsible for drug resistance, disease progression and relapse if patients stop their kinase inhibitor therapy for any reason. The team has used a range of omics technologies – genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, epigenomics and metabolomics - to compare how CML stem cells differ to normal stem cells in terms of the signals that keep the leukaemia stem cells alive during kinase inhibitor therapy. 

In a second step they have then applied computational methods to interrogate all the data generated by the omics screens and come up with several potentially druggable candidates. The last two years have been invested in pre-clinical studies – the stage before taking new drugs into human trials and the team hopes that this work will reach the clinic within 1-3 years. The Holyoake team is committed to precision medicine research: the right drug at the right time for the right effect in the patient.

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