WHEN Professor Peter Johnson sounds the starting klaxon at tomorrow's Race for Life he will have every reason to cheer the 10,000 women across the start line.

As Cancer Research UK's chief clinician and head of its Clinical Research Centre in Southampton he knows every penny raised by these determined ladies will be spent on lifesaving research into cancer treatments.

Deep within the city's nationally renowned research laboratories vital discoveries are being made.

For it is here that more than 100 scientists are developing and trialing the new vaccines which could revolutionise the way cancer is treated.

"We're working hard to understand how our immune systems can be used to fight cancer rather than relying on chemotherapy,"

explained Prof Johnson. "We're now working on the next generation of vaccines to increase immune responses.We're bringing together two treatments: vaccines and antibodies.We're the only people to give antibodies directly to the patient to try and stimulate the body's own immune system into fighting the disease."

And the results look promising.

"In the last few years we have got a lot more information in how vaccines work and how best to deliver them.We have discovered that delivering a vaccine plus a small electric shock makes for better responses in the immune system.We have used this technique in trials for prostate cancer and it suggests an important effect of the vaccine."

Breast cancer also represents a big area of research for the Southampton unit.

"We're working hard to understand the signals inside cells thatmake breast cancer grow and how to turn them off," explained Prof Johnson.

These groundbreaking discoveries are what makes Southampton the country's leading centre for the development and clinical trial of cancer treatments.

And each of the women and girls walking or jogging Race for Life tomorrow is playing her part to ensure this crucial work can continue.

Southampton needs £3.5m from Cancer Research UK every year to continue its life-saving work: "The majority of our funding comes from Cancer Research UK and an enormous amount of their funding comes from Race for Life so the event is a vital link between the two," said Prof Johnson.

"Without Race for Life, Cancer Research UK would be so much more limited. It is a very important event in the calendar."

Since the Southampton Race for Life began in 1996 the women of Southampton have raised an amazing £3m.

This year alone, organisers hope the event - the biggest of its kind in England - will raise £583,000 to help in the fight against cancer.

"It's a great honour to be asked to start Race for Life in Southampton,"

added Prof Johnson, whose 14-year-old daughter Mariella will be among those running the 5km course around Southampton Common.

"All the money we spend on research has been raised by the public and it's always rather moving the number of people who want to support Cancer Research UK and help raise funds.

"I'd like to say thank you to all the women for their time and effort to help this vital research. I wish everyone who is taking part in Race for Life a good race.Without them, the work we do would not be possible."