As we celebrate International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2020, The Kids’ Cancer Project meets a scientist who is making her mark in cancer research through her role working on the most exciting and innovative childhood cancer research initiative ever undertaken in Australia. The Zero Childhood Cancer Program is led by Children’s Cancer Institute and The Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick.
Five years ago, Dr Emily Mould moved from the UK to Australia for a post-doctoral research role at the Children’s Cancer Institute within the institute's ambitious Zero Childhood Cancer Program. Today, there are children who have survived high-risk cancer as a result of the knowledge developed by Emily and her colleagues. A career doesn’t get much more satisfying than that, she says!
“We always hoped we would be able to make a clinical impact with the research we were doing, particularly for children enrolled on the Zero Childhood Cancer Program national clinical trial, but we didn’t know when we might get to that point,” says Emily, the Personalised Medicine Program Coordinator at the Children’s Cancer Institute.
“Actually, due to the work of the incredible team of clinicians and researchers involved, we have been seeing clinical impact now for a couple of years. It’s amazing for such a new research program to be changing lives. We’re already seeing children who are deriving benefit from this program and who otherwise might not be alive today, and the data generated so far is driving cutting edge translational research to be able to help more children in the future. That’s incredibly inspiring.”
Emily’s PhD, completed in the UK, was in the field of cancer research, but focussed on drug discovery. It’s a topic area that involves investigating genetic changes that might be able to be targeted by drugs. While it’s fascinating, it’s also about as far from clinical reality as a researcher can be. At the same time she had an urge to move overseas, Emily also desired a move into an area of research in which she could see the clinical translation of her work.
Her postdoctoral position on the Zero Childhood Cancer Program, when Emily first arrived in Australia, was funded by The Kids’ Cancer Project. We continue as a founding funding partner for the Program, which brings together major Australian clinical and research groups in the field of childhood cancer to offer Australia's first ever personalised medicine program for children with high-risk or relapsed cancer.
The Zero Childhood Cancer Program isn’t just proving to be a success in the field of childhood cancer research – it’s also a shining example of scientific endeavour that is majority managed by women.
“It doesn’t matter what your life circumstances are in the field of childhood cancer research,” Emily says. “We welcome the best and the brightest – that’s our only measure. From the research side of the Program, right now we’re probably two-thirds female, which is a lot higher than some areas of STEM.”
Thanks to the work going on in the childhood cancer research field, Emily predicts enormous (and enormously beneficial!) advancement in the next five to 10 years.
“I see a huge increase in the number of treatment options for children,” she says. “At the moment the biggest issue is that there are not enough targeted drugs with which to treat children. Children’s cancer is a vastly different disease to adult cancer, requiring either entirely new drugs or better understanding of how to use adult cancer drugs in children.”
“The only way we’re going to get there is by spending the next five to 10 years truly studying the disease, so that we can get to a point where we can understand each child’s cancer and personalise their treatment. That will be the biggest change and will contribute enormously to survival rates and patient quality of life. We will get there by doing the sort of research we’re managing right now.”
In the meantime, as with all childhood cancer researchers, Emily’s main struggle will be ensuring her work continues to make a difference thanks to vital funding.
“The Kids’ Cancer Project was one of the very first funding bodies to believe and invest in the Zero Childhood Cancer Program. They supported my position and also a clinical trial coordinator role from the very beginning. The Kids’ Cancer Project helps us to survive and has been so important in our journey.”