WHEN Margaret Howat was diagnosed with a form of leukaemia in Scotland it created fear and uncertainly for her family.

But her treatment in Glasgow was also the start of a lifetime friendship which has seen Mrs Howat and her husband Malcolm help fund the search for a cure to the tune of £6m.

Now the couple have received an honorary degree from Glasgow University in recognition of their significant contribution to research into the illness.

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As recently as this month the Howat Foundation, which the couple have created, stepped in to support a project looking at how leukaemia cells defy treatment after funding the researcher expected to receive fell through.

The charity has also secured the future of a home in Perth where children with leukaemia can holiday when it looked as though the property would be sold.

Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, said: “The impact of the Howat Foundation’s philanthropy is immeasurable – not only to a number of areas of cancer research but also to early career researchers. Margaret Howat’s personal courage in the face of her diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML) and her support to other CML patients have also been inspirational.”

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Mrs Howat, 64, discovered she had CML in 2005. The symptoms were not easy to spot. While away on a family holiday she noticed bruising on her arms and legs even though she had not fallen or bumped herself.

A routine check-up brought the diagnosis of CML - a form of the illness which progresses slowly. The family say the diagnosis put a weight on all of them. It was Professor Tessa Holyoake, Professor of experimental haematology at the university and a cancer clinician in Glasgow, who had the job of telling them Mrs Howat definitely had the condition.

The news came as a shock, but it also sparked a friendship.

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Mrs Howat said: "I fairly warmed to Tessa as someone who would tell the truth about my treatment and as someone who was extremely competent and qualified to deal with this unique and fairly unknown illness."

The wealthy family found they had access to world leading treatment in Glasgow, the very city where Mrs Howat was born.

Mrs Howat said: "Tessa became a friend - she couldn't do enough for me and gave me the confidence and courage to face treatment - she convinced me I had a chance."

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She took a drug she describes as a "magic bullet" for six months and then progressed to a bone marrow transplant thanks to a donation from her younger brother and the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service.

The transplant was a success and the family felt they wanted to say thank you to the "wonderful people" who save lives every day and support their research work so that more lives could be saved.

Malcolm Howat, is the founder of a company called Howco Group plc and he established it as a global supplier to the oilfield services sector.

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The couple began by helping support equipment Professor Holyoake's team needed to identify and separate cells. They went on to fund a system which allows the researchers to examine 384 genes in single cell. Their funding has also backed three separate researchers including a five year project looking at leukaemia in childhood. At the same time Mrs Howat has played an active role in the university's medical school meeting students and describing what it was like to be diagnosed with CML.

Professor Holyoake said: "The Howats have allowed us to progress and expand at a much faster rate. It has allowed us to attract internationally the best scientists from around the world and has therefore extended the team. It has also allowed us to have state of the art technology that we would otherwise not have been able to afford."

Just last week a potential breakthrough was announced by Professor Holyoake - a new treatment they developed for CML which it is hoped could free many more people of the disease.

Mrs Howat said: "The idea of a cure for leukaemia is what we have always dreamt of and it is now up the drug companies to do their part and produce affordable drugs."

Mr Howat said the couple were extremely surprised and proud to have received a joint honorary degree and they planned to celebrate.