The UCL Dr Lori Houlihan Glioblastoma Fund
Dr Lori Houlihan's story, in her own words
In May 2019, I was living a busy, fulfilling life as Vice-Provost (Advancement) at UCL, wife and mum, leading the It’s All Academic Campaign and looking forward to the unveiling of UCL’s new Donor Wall. When I experienced déjà vu spells one day, I brushed them off, thinking that I’d go to the doctor if they didn’t go away. Then that evening I had a seizure and was rushed to my local hospital - and life changed dramatically and devastatingly for me, my husband, my 16-year-old daughter taking her GCSEs and the rest of my family, friends and colleagues.
Within a week, I was diagnosed as having glioblastoma – the most aggressive form of brain cancer. I had surgery and was prescribed the current standard treatment, a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, which I’m continuing.
Fortunately, I have had the tremendous benefit of having been diagnosed, treated and cared for at UCL’s world-leading Queen’s Square neuroscience facilities by expert researchers and clinicians, where I have access to the latest knowledge and cutting-edge treatments.
I have always been proud of UCL, but to be on the other side of the research, to see first-hand what that research means when you are in a life-threatening situation, makes me prouder still.
When I was first diagnosed I was advised not to google my condition, but of course you always do. What I found was not at all encouraging but, as my brilliant surgeon told me, “no one is a statistic”. I am tolerating the treatment well, feeling positive and learning to live with the fact of my reduced life expectancy, with the tremendous support of family, friends and colleagues, whose care has buoyed me so greatly.
I am struck, however, by how little change there has been to treatment options for this cancer over the last two decades. The drugs I'm now on were in clinical phase 1 trials when I was in primary school. No novel treatments have been developed - largely due to lack of research funding.
I have always known that philanthropic giving to UCL saves and extends lives. I now know how deeply important it feels when it is your life that is being extended thanks to the research and translation that philanthropy has enabled. For the sake of future patients, I hope this fund will support the kind of advances in understanding and treating glioblastoma similar to those we have seen in other cancers, where research and translation – driven by philanthropy – have made such a sizeable difference to outcomes.
Glioblastoma is a type of aggressive brain cancer that over 3,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with every year.
In most cases, the underlying cause is unknown, and they usually occur sporadically in people with no family history of tumours.
There is no cure for glioblastoma, and the median overall survival rate is under one year.
The current treatment – surgery followed by a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy – results in a modest improvement in survival rates of up to around 15 months.
At UCL, Dr Paul Mulholland, medical oncologist and leader of the Glioma Research Group, and Professor Sergio Quezada, Professor of Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy, are leading a programme to significantly improve outcomes by administering immunotherapies prior to surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. They believe a cure for glioblastoma is possible.
Immunotherapy has revolutionised the treatment of several advanced cancers, and this integrated translational research programme will provide invaluable insights into the immunology of glioblastoma, laying the foundation for the design of ever improving combinatorial therapies.
As always, philanthropy is the ingredient that drives research and translation further and faster.
In this case, it will directly support Dr Mulholland and his team to identify better treatments for this aggressive form of cancer, making a real impact on the lives of people affected in future.
About Dr Lori Houlihan
Lori Houlihan was Vice-Provost (Advancement) at UCL until 31 March 2020, when she retired due to ill health. As a member of UCL’s Senior Management Team, she reported to the UCL President & Provost and contributed to the development and successful implementation of UCL's long-term strategy UCL 2034.
Her portfolio included leading the highly successful £600m It's All Academic philanthropic campaign, the Communications and Marketing function for UCL and the university’s London Strategy. Under Lori's leadership, the Office of the Vice-Provost (Advancement) primarily focused on communicating the brilliance of UCL to the world and helping to attract the best staff and students. It built relationships with individuals, alumni, trusts, foundations companies and partners who can support our institutional priorities. Lori also acted as UCL's Interfaith Champion and a member of the staff LGBTQ+ advisory group.
Before joining UCL in 2011, Lori spent 12 years at the University of Aberdeen and established its first Directorate of Marketing, going on to lead the transformation of all the external affairs functions including its £200m “6th Century” Campaign, marketing, communications, student recruitment and admission, public affairs and Government relations. In all her university roles, Lori worked extensively with partners and supporters across North America, Europe and Asia.
Before joining the university sector she worked in health promotion for the NHS in Scotland supporting a range of innovative public health campaigns.
Lori studied at Aberdeen Grammar School and received an honours bachelor's degree in Business Studies from Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. She was awarded a Diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. In 2015 she completed the Advanced Management Programme at Columbia University. She was awarded an honorary doctorate by UCL in December 2020 in recognition of her outstanding service to the university and the wider sector.
In 2019, Lori received the prestigious Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Europe Distinguished Service Award, which recognises leaders who have made a significant and lasting impact in the advancement field. She was Trustee-at-Large of CASE (Washington DC), past Chair of the Ross Group (UK), member of the Standards Committee of the Fundraising Regulator, Trustee of the Film and Television Charity, Board member of the Higher Education Working Group of the 30% Club. She was a Burgess of the City of Aberdeen and in 2018 was elected as a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing.