Today as we commemorate #IWD2019, we reflect on the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women and shine a spotlight on four phenomenal scientists who are exploring the complexities of childhood cancer.
While these professionals continue a forceful momentum in vital research, they are not only reaching new frontiers in medical discovery, they are paving the way and inspiring future women in science. We asked them to describe their mission in a nutshell, here is what they said.
Associate Professor Christine Hawkins, La Trobe University, Victoria
“My mission is to identify new therapies to improve outcomes for children and teenagers diagnosed with bone cancer.” - Associate Professor Christine Hawkins
Every year, around 23 Australians aged between zero and 19 years are diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Currently, only approximately 60 per cent survive more than five years after the disease is identified – a prognosis that hasn’t changed in the last four decades.
This is a stark contrast to the dramatic improvements in outcomes for children and teenagers with other types of cancer, and it’s what Hawkins and her team are dedicated to rectifying by investigating new anticancer drugs and other therapies.
“I am very optimistic that these new therapeutic approaches will enable a much larger proportion of osteosarcoma patients to be cured,” said Hawkins. “In fact, I’m confident the cure rates will surpass 80 per cent within my lifetime.”
Read more: Exploring better and safer treatments for osteosarcoma.
Professor Michelle Haber AM, Children’s Cancer Institute, New South Wales
“For 35 years my personal mission has been to discover new treatments to help cure every child of cancer.” - Professor Michelle Haber
“We have come a long way in that time with significant improvements in overall survival rates, but there are still three children dying every week here in Australia and this is three too many. This is what gets me out of bed every morning and keeps me motivated to succeed,” she said.
Haber is lead investigator on Zero Childhood Cancer, one of the most ambitious research initiatives ever undertaken in Australia. The world-class program brings together all major Australian clinical and research groups working in childhood cancer to offer Australia’s first ever personalised medicine program for children with high-risk or relapsed cancer.
Following the success of the program’s pilot study, the Zero Childhood Cancer clinical trial, which commenced in 2017, is now showing some very promising results. During the first 12 months of the trial, a personalised treatment plan was able to be recommended for almost 70 per cent of participating children, within an average turnaround time of only nine weeks from the time their tumour sample was received. And for some, the trial has proven to be a life-saver.
“All of our team at Children’s Cancer institute absolutely believe that we can and we will cure every child of cancer in the foreseeable future, and we won’t stop until we do.”
Read more: Learn about Zero Childhood Cancer.
Dr Belinda Kramer, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, New South Wales
“My mission is to put my hands to work. Throughout my science career, I’ve often been told that I have “good hands”, meaning I get things done.” - Dr Belinda Kramer
Dr Kramer is currently working with Dr Geoff McCowage at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead on an exciting new immunotherapy treatment for children with relapsed or refractory solid tumours, focussing on osteosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma, brain tumours and neuroblastoma.
The new treatment involves genetic modification of T cells with a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) to target tumour associated proteins present on these paediatric solid tumours as the doctors explain in this two minute video.
“Our CAR T cell project is my opportunity to put these experienced hands to work – to pioneer CAR T Cell therapies for Australian children diagnosed with cancer,” said Dr Kramer.
Dr Joanna Fardell, UNSW Australia, New South Wales
“My mission is to ensure that every Australian child diagnosed with cancer has equal access to education post treatment and is supported to achieve their education goals and aspirations.” - Dr Joanna Fardell
Dr Fardell is the Deputy Program Leader, Behavioural Sciences Unit, Kids Cancer Centre at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick. She’s also the Postdoctoral Research Fellow for The Kids’ Cancer Project and has been working with the University of NSW on the Ready, Steady, School study since its launch in January 2017.
The Fardell team recognised that while research is helping more young people survive cancer than ever before, diagnosis and treatment disrupts education, which can negatively impact social and academic skill development.
Enter Ready, Steady, School, a study initiated to create an evidence-based program for young cancer survivors with the aim to facilitate school engagement in survivors during and after treatment. Development of the program has been in collaboration with healthcare and education professionals along with cancer survivors and their families.
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