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The top scientist fears her life-saving medical advances for millions of others could be jeopardised as she only has months to live. While doing her microbiology PhD at the University of Sheffield, Kirsty Smitten developed a new class of antibiotics to treat multi-drug resistant bacteria. “If we get the new drugs on the market it will potentially save tens of millions of lives,” said Kirsty.
“A new class of antibiotics hasn’t reached clinics in over 30 years, and by 2050 antibiotic microbial resistance is expected to kill 10 million people.”
Kirsty says her company MetalloBio “would be able to prevent that”, but with her being ill, she’s worried the company may not succeed without her.
Only a year on from setting up MetalloBio and receiving investment, Kirsty had no idea of the shock diagnosis to come her way.
Regularly playing hockey and football, and travelling across the globe to speak at science conferences, Kirsty had no reason to suspect something sinister was happening.
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Waking up one morning last November with severe chest pain, her mum encouraged Kirsty to visit A&E.
Given her age and her health, the doctor concluded with certainty that she pulled a muscle in the gym or playing football.
“But then they did a CT scan for my blood clot and found a 6cm tumour in my heart,” said Kirsty.
Stating that the discovery “was a bit of a shock”, Kirsty said: “It’s been a bit hectic since then.”
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Kirsty elaborated: “They found the tumour but, initially, they didn’t think it would be cancerous because it’s really, really rare.”
Its scarcity meant it took three months to be diagnosed with cardiac angiosarcoma.
“To get any kind of growth in your heart is very rare because your heart cells don’t replicate after a certain age,” said Kirsty.
On treatments for cardiac angiosarcoma, Kirsty said: “I work in med-tech, and no one wants to fund something that only one person in 36 million is going to use, so there’s no new developments.”
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The Royal Marsden, a world-leading cancer care charity in London, has told Kirsty that could perform surgery, giving Kirsty a 10 percent chance of surviving for five years.
Kirsty said: “For someone who’s got metastasis, there’s life expectancy of seven months once diagnosed.
“For someone that doesn’t have metastasis, one to two years, and that’s if you can have an operation.”
Kirsty added: “New things are coming out, and we just need to keep buying me time.
“But there’s still a 68 percent chance I’ll die within 12 months of diagnosis.”
Kirsty said: “If you saw me now and saw me when you get diagnosed it’s just barbaric because I still look absolutely fine.
“Other than the PICC (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) in my arm, you wouldn’t know I was ill.
“My friends are just like, how on earth is this going on? Because you just look the exact same. I can still walk and exercise and stuff.
“I thought I was going to have kids and a family, and I’ve been told I’ve got seven months to live.”
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) says spotting tumours in the heart as early as possible is “important”.
The BHF says “some tumours cause no symptom”, but others can lead to:
- High temperature
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
“Tumours are often detected by echocardiograms and CT scans,” the BHF notes.
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