TRIBUTES have been paid to an ‘exceptional’ young scientist - who developed a new class of antibiotics - after she died following a battle with a rare form of heart cancer which impacts just one in 20 million people.
Kirsty Smitten, who was a leading light at Darton Academy-based Barnsley Hockey Club, was lauded for her groundbreaking work which helped her firm - MetalloBio - create new antimicrobial compounds that could potentially be the first to enter clinics for nearly 40 years.
The 29-year-old won multiple awards, both personally and for the company, including a Forbes Magazine ’30 under 30’ title, a Royal Academy of Engineering enterprise fellowship and the UK Federation of Small Businesses’ entrepreneur of the year accolade earlier this year 2023.
Having attended hospital last November, doctors assumed she had just pulled a muscle but her condition rapidly deteriorated and she was given just months to live in February.
She died on October 4 following the battle with cardiac angiosarcoma, a cancer which is diagnosed on average just twice a year in the UK.
Joanne Hadfield, captain of Barnsley Hockey Club, told the Chronicle: “Kirsty was a valuable and popular member of our team and club, both on and of the pitch.
“In her work she had found a new class of antibiotic with the potential to save millions of lives, but to us she was simply our centre forward.
“The last match that she played was an epic performance - she scored a hat-trick.
“It was as though she was playing her last game ever, but we didn’t realise it at the time.
“She was a formidable opponent, especially to defenders because of her strength and exceptional speed.
“She mentioned during the game that her chest was hurting but she wanted to play on.
“She visited the hospital afterwards to be told she had a pulled muscle.
“Within a short period she was diagnosed with having a cardiac angiosarcoma, a rare form of cancer.
“She was so dedicated to playing, we have known her arrive for the start of the game directly from the airport, having been to the USA to deliver a presentation of her work.
“Kirsty was very a humble person, both as a player and scientist - we are not sure that she was even aware of her impact in sports or science.
“We were certainly ignorant of her achievements, as she never spoke about them in great detail.
“She will be sadly missed by everyone at our club.”
Kirsty, originally from the West Midlands, moved to the town while she attended the University of Sheffield and struck up a close bond with the club’s members.
Professor Jim Thomas, who worked with Kirsty at university during her time studying for a PhD, added: “She was an exceptional individual - apart from her academic and burgeoning commercial successes she was a keen and competitive sportswoman.
“On top of this, she showed an active commitment to society, contributing to and even setting up local charities and community organisations.
“When diagnosed with an exceptionally rare and aggressive cancer, she went on to document her life on social media and use this as a lever for fundraising activities.
“She even set up an online support group to help others across the world.
“Kirsty was the most extraordinary person I have met in my career.”
A Go Fund Me page set up by her brother, Matthew - aims to continue funding the work which Kirsty started and has so far raised £11,000 in a week.
Matthew said: “My little sister was a determined and extraordinary young woman who had carried out ground-breaking scientific research to help save the lives of millions.
“During the most vulnerable and difficult time in her life, Kirsty’s kindness and determination to help those in need did not waiver.
“She created a Facebook group to provide those diagnosed with cardiac-angiosarcoma with guidance and moral support and shared her cancer journey through blogs, Instagram and TikTok, in order to spread awareness.
“My sister leaves behind a legacy of charity and generosity that touched the lives of many in need.
“We want to continue her work and look to set up a charity in Kirsty’s name or donate to Sarcoma UK.”