CANCER specialists in Southampton are celebrating a massive cash windfall - thanks to thousands of women who took part in Race for Life.

The Cancer Research UK unit in Southampton will receive £2m over the next five years. The aim is to create an Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre in the city which will drive new anti-cancer treatments for patients.

The multi-million pound boost will provide huge benefits for cancer patients across the south, ensuring that Southampton remains at the cutting edge of international efforts to help beat cancer.

Funding for this new centre has been made possible thanks to those who have supported Cancer Research UK, including the 10,000 runners who every summer take part in Southampton's Race for Life, one of the biggest events in the country.

Sheena Tippen, 58, works with cancer patients at Manor House in West End, and was diagnosed herself with breast cancer eight years ago. Sheena had surgery to remove both of her breasts and has now made a full recovery.

She said: "This news is blooming fantastic. The support and help I got at the unit was brilliant, they were really good to me. This is a fantastic sum of money for them.

"I have run the Race for Life for four years now and taking part is always really emotional, reading everyone's reason for running on their backs. I always end up in tears."

The Cancer Research UK medical oncology unit at Southampton General Hospital is world-renowned for its research into the treatment of lymphoma, a complex group of cancers which occur in the lymphatic system. The south coast centre was chosen for the windfall because of its scientific and clinical excellence.

What this will mean is that as breakthroughs are made, these are developed into treatments for cancer patients as quickly as possible.

Professor Peter Johnson, who will head up the centre at Southampton, said: "We are delighted to have been awarded funding to become an Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre.

"This fantastic achievement acknowledges the expertise and dedication of our team at Southamp-ton. It will ensure that for the next five years we have the infrastructure and support mechanisms in place to allow us to run more clinical trials, enabling cancer patients from our area to benefit from new medicines as quickly as possible."

The Southampton centre will be one of 17 across the country. It is being developed as part of the National Cancer Research Institute, which was set up in 2001 to co-ordinate plans for cancer research across the UK.

The new funding in Southampton will fund clinical, laboratory and other NHS costs. This will allow centres to share knowledge and research.

One of the most important aspects of the new centre will be the translational work it does. Discoveries made by scientists will be quickly shaped into potential new treatments or diagnostic tests that, in time, could help patients.

Professor Herbie Newell, director of translational research at Cancer Research UK, who will oversee the running of the new centres, said: "This initiative will provide vital infrastructure to help laboratories, scientists, clinicians, nurses and support staff accelerate research that benefits patients."

Health minister Andy Burnham said: "This important investment in experimental cancer medicine means that cancer patients will receive faster access to improved, safer treatments and the highest quality patient care."

The money raised by Race for Life runners contributes to a fifth of Cancer Research UK's annual science spend. This July's Race for Life event, which was held on Southampton Common, has so far raised £421,191, with money going directly to the oncology unit at Southamp-ton General Hospital.

However over half of those women who ran have yet to hand in their sponsorship money.