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Care to Quit

By Deb,

Staff at Calvary Mater Newcastle are leading the way in helping oncology patients quit smoking through participation in the Care to Quit trial, led by Professor Christine Paul from the University of Newcastle.

The enthusiastic Calvary Mater Newcastle Care to Quit leadership team consists of Dr Fiona Day, Dr Tin Quah, Gillian Blanchard, Laura Healey, Emily Sykes, Leanna Pugliese and Ashley Powell. Wasting no time, the Mater team recruited the first patients to Care to Quit after it opened in June.

Smoking tobacco has harmful effects on almost all parts of the body. After being diagnosed with cancer, patients who continue to smoke have higher post-operative complications, longer hospital stays and more radiotherapy complications.

Conversely, patients who stop smoking at a cancer diagnosis improve their chances of survival, among many other benefits. Despite this, not all patients treated at cancer centres are screened for current smoking or referred to smoking cessation services.

The Care to Quit trial is a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funded stepped wedge randomised clinical trial to implement best-practice smoking cessation care for people with cancer. It will be run over three years at nine cancer treatment centres in Australia.

At the Mater, patients will be invited to participate when attending Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology, Surgical and Haematology outpatient clinic appointments. Participating is simple, involving two scheduled phone interviews. The trial aim is to see an improvement in the smoking quit rate among patients recruited after their treating staff are provided with a six month ‘intervention’ period of support and education in providing smoking cessation care.

The Mater team have helped develop important educational resources for the trial. Role play videos demonstrating smoking cessation advice provided to ‘patients’ (played by actors) have been filmed in the Medical Centre and in the Radiation Oncology treatment area and will be used at all participating cancer centres.

“I believe we are at a watershed moment for addressing this important aspect of supportive care in oncology,” said Dr Fiona Day. “We now realise that continued smoking after a cancer diagnosis can have an impact similar to having versus not having some cancer treatments. So now it’s time to resource and upskill our health services to meet this need, and gathering clinical trial evidence via the Care to Quit trial will aid that process.”

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Three minutes to success

By Deb,

A huge congratulations to Research Manager for Suicide Prevention (and PhD student) at Calvary Mater Newcastle, Katie McGill.

Katie recently won her heat of the 2021 University of Newcastle’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition.

The competition is held annually at the University of Newcastle for higher degree research candidates, spread across the four schools: Nursing and Midwifery, Health Sciences, Medicine and Public Health, and Biomedical Science and Pharmacy.

This year there were 22 candidates vying for a spot in the final.

In just three minutes, using only a static slide, participants present their research – what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and why.

Katie’s thesis was entitled, “Using health service data to inform suicide prevention policy, planning and practice”, representing the School of Medicine and Public Health.

Of her win, Katie said,

“I’m so excited to go through to the University of Newcastle’s 3MT Competition final as the winner and representative of the School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Most of my family, friends and colleagues know I’m doing a PhD, but they have no idea what I’m doing, or why. This was a chance to see if I could explain my research in a way that would connect with everyday people, in a timeframe that probably equals our usual attention span!

“Improving outcomes for people who are suicidal is something that matters. Being able to work with Calvary Mater Newcastle and others in the field has made my work possible and it’s great to be able to let others know about it in this way.”

Ralph Gourlay, Director of Medical Services said, “This is a fantastic achievement of which I am personally inspired and impressed by Katie’s win.”

The winner from each school will progress to the University of Newcastle’s 3MT final on Wednesday 25 August 2021. Good luck Katie.

To view Katie’s thesis go to

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Cancer research gets $7 million boost in NSW regions

By Deb,

Congratulations to Dr Craig Gedye, Medical Oncology Senior Staff Specialist, who is Chief Investigator of a cancer research capacity building grant that has recently been awarded a $7 million investment to the NSW Regional Health Partners.

People living with cancer and the health care professionals caring for them are set to benefit thanks to the Translational Cancer Research Capacity Building Grant, awarded by the NSW Government through the Cancer Institute NSW. This significant grant will help build an innovative cancer research network in the Hunter, New England, Central Coast, Mid North Coast and Northern NSW.

Craig said,

“It can be hard to do health and medical research. With this network we hope to make it easier for patients and their clinicians to collaborate to advance cancer care through research relevant not only in NSW, but for anyone experiencing cancer.

“We have incredible people and clinicians in our regions and, by building on the systems we already use, we hope to embed cancer research in health care to improve the lives of people with cancer. I’m proud that it will happen here.”

The research will run collaboratively across all members of the NSW Regional Health partnership; through the four Local Health Districts, Calvary Mater Newcastle and with support from the University of Newcastle, and with dedicated staff based at the Hunter Medical Research Institute.

The grant recognises NSW Regional Health Partners as a partnership of institutions focused on bridging the gap between what medical research tells us and what happens to people in the health system.
Craig will be working with all the partners, of which Calvary Mater Newcastle is one, to form a steering committee to allow a cancer research infrastructure model to be designed.

NSW Regional Health Partners Chairman Stewart Dowrick said the $7 million injection will help people in rural and regional NSW who are often excluded from research.

“We’re a partnership with a common interest in improving the lives of people in rural and regional NSW, and cancer is a part of many of those lives,” Mr Dowrick, who is also Chief Executive of the Mid North Coast Local Health District, said.

Chief Cancer Officer and CEO of the Cancer Institute NSW, Professor David Currow, said NSW is at the forefront of innovation in cancer research.

“Investment in research with a focus on priority populations is an important driver in improving cancer outcomes. We want to make an impact where it matters most – on the lives of people affected by cancer today, and into the future,” Professor Currow said.

NSW Regional Health partners is a partnership of the University of Newcastle, University of New England, HMRI, Hunter New England Central Coast Primary Health Network, Calvary Mater Newcastle and the Central Coast, Mid North Coast and Hunter New England Local Health Districts.

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Targeted Success

By Deb,

A collaboration between the Department of Radiation Oncology at Calvary Mater Newcastle and the Department of Nuclear Medicine at Hunter New England Local Health District has resulted in clinical trial success.

Prof Jarad Martin, Radiation Oncology Senior Staff Specialist, and Dr Natalie Rutherford, Clinical Director of Nuclear Medicine, were part of the team awarded dual winners of the 2021 Australian Clinical Trials Alliance (ACTA) Award.

This event celebrates the vital role trials have in advancing clinical practice and saving or improving patients’ lives every year.

The award-winning clinical trial, known as ProPSMA, provides greater accuracy in identifying prostate cancer. The trial uses a new imaging technique called PSMA PET/CT which can detect small sites of tumour spread that may not be detected with conventional imaging.

During the trial, 300 men with newly diagnosed prostate cancer participated across ten sites, including Calvary Mater Newcastle. Each participant had a whole-body 3D scan using a radioactive substance that tracks prostate cancer, called a Ga68 PSMA PET/CT scan, that produced detailed images of the cancer spread. The trial team found that PSMA PET/CT had an accuracy of 92 per cent compared to 65 per cent accuracy achieved with conventional imaging.

Natalie said,

“The ProPSMA study was a pivotal trial for men in Newcastle, and all of Australia. It shows the true extent of men’s prostate cancer against other imaging that was previously considered gold standard, and deepening our knowledge of the men who do have unrealised metastatic disease at their baseline diagnosis. It was also a very good stepping stone to showing that this little PSMA tracer was not only a great way to track the malignancy, but now, hopefully beyond the ProPSMA trial, will also attack and kill the tumour.”

The findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal, The Lancet, in March 2020. ProPSMA was funded by a clinical trials grant from the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia and Movember.

Jarad commented,

“The findings from the ProPSMA trial are already impacting the routine management of local men with newly diagnosed prostate cancer. It was a great collaboration between clinicians and allied health which has helped establish Newcastle at the forefront of this field.”

Prostate cancer is recognised as a silent disease in that there are often no symptoms present during the early stages. Once symptoms do begin to develop, the cancer is often further advanced and may have spread beyond the original tumour site. Imaging accuracy is critical to determining the best treatment plan for men who have received a prostate cancer diagnosis.

The trial was led by Chief Investigator, Prof Michael Hofman, Director of the Prostate Cancer Theranostics and Imaging Centre of Excellence (ProsTIC) at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (as part of the Australasian Radiopharmaceutical Network (ARTnet) and co-badged the ANZUP Cancer Trials Group.

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Hunter people to benefit from local research into dementia tests and treatments

By Deb,

Two exciting new research studies that will look to identify those most at risk of developing dementia and then attempt to delay or stop its development are underway in the Hunter New England region.

Dementia is a debilitating disease which progressively robs people of their faculties and has been resistant to treatment. All that may be about to change with the development of several new drugs which may slow the progression of the disease and its symptoms.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, has long been thought to involve the buildup in the brain of plaques. These plaques are made of a protein called beta amyloid and a new type of antibody therapy which can remove these proteins has shown promise in other studies.

Researchers from the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) are teaming up with the Australian Dementia Network (ADNet) and international drug companies on two studies that aim to spot the early signs of dementia and test these new treatments in people before they develop the symptoms of dementia.

Leading the local team is Professor Michael Breakspear, group leader of the Systems Neuroscience research group at HMRI, professor of Psychology at the University of Newcastle and a clinical Psychiatrist and Neuroscientist. Professor Breakspear says these two trials support each other. The first trial will look for early signs of dementia and the second will test whether removing plaques before symptoms have developed can delay or stop the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

“At the moment, we don’t have any predictive tests; we have to wait until people develop symptoms before they can get a diagnosis,” Professor Breakspear said.

“What we know from 20 years of research is that by that time there has already been a lot of underlying damage to the brain and we currently don’t have any treatments that can reverse that damage.”

The first study known as the Prospective Imaging Study of Ageing (PISA) will be looking to see if it is possible to identify people that are most at risk of developing dementia through cognitive assessments, genetic analysis and brain scans looking for early signs of plaque accumulation.

Once the team have identified a group of at-risk people, they will potentially have the opportunity to take part in the clinical trial which will test one of the plaque clearing antibody treatments to see if it will prevent them from developing dementia later in life. Participants identified will receive the treatment at Calvary Mater Newcastle, who is a partner in the trial.

Just like it is now possible to test your risk for several diseases through take home kits, Professor Breakspear says that he hopes this work could lead to a similar test for the risk of dementia.

“It would be great to be able to identify people in their late 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s and say we think you are highly likely to develop dementia and here are some treatments we can offer to delay, prevent or even reverse what otherwise is likely to happen in 10–15 years,” Professor Breakspear said.

If people are interested in taking part in dementia research, they can visit:

Volunteer for clinical trials

* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact Sam Cardwell on +61 (0)2 4042 0049 or

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A lasting legacy

By Deb,

After an extraordinary 22 years of fundraising for oncology researchers at the Mater, the Coalfields Cancer Support Group has decided the time is right to call time on their fundraising.

To recognise this remarkable group of fundraisers the hospital held a thank you morning tea at East Cessnock Bowling Club where Hospital Scientists Jennette Sakoff, Lisa Lincz, Jayne Gilbert and Fiona Scorgie attended, along with Mary Ringstad, Helen Ellis and Deb Astawa.

With a relationship spanning over two decades this event was at times emotional but what permeated throughout was the deep respect between both parties.

Over this time the group raised $667,000 for the hospital which helped fund the Coalfields Cancer Support Group Equipment Grant that is awarded to oncology researchers on an annual basis at our Celebration of Service.

The group began as a support group for cancer patients and survivors and their loved ones, and held their first raffle at Christmas in 1999, raising $4,000. The decision was made to donate the proceeds to local cancer research efforts at the Mater.
Marie Main, Coalfields Cancer Support Group President, said of their first-ever cheque handover to the research scientists, “You would have thought we gave them $4 million!”

From countless raffles, bingo days, country music nights and coach trips to every corner of Australia, the group has funded vital equipment for the Mater’s research teams to use in treatment and clinical trials.

Over the many years of fundraising, the group has been grateful for the support of the Cessnock community. Marie said, “The whole town has supported us – if we invited everyone who supported us we would have to get the Opera House to fit everybody in! When we said it was for the Mater, people wouldn’t hesitate.”

The group’s fundraising efforts took a hit during COVID-19, and between that and its ageing membership, the decision was made to fold.

Despite a slow year in 2020, the group handed over one last cheque for $12,000 at the morning tea.

Dr Jennette Sakoff, Chief Hospital Scientist, said,

“It was a sad moment when the group decided to call it a day and wind up their fundraising efforts, however, the legacy from their devotion will continue. The equipment purchased from their dedication has provided our research teams with the infrastructure and tools to conduct crucial clinical trials and laboratory-based research for our local community.

“It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Marie and her team of fellow supporters. Their kindness, friendship and generosity will be treasured forever.”

As a sign of the Mater’s gratitude for the groups many years of support, each member was presented with a Calvary Mater Newcastle 20 years of service badge and a rose corsage.

Mary Ringstad, Director of Mission, said the hospital had a “deep gratitude” for the group’s commitment to fundraising for cancer research.

“To choose to donate to research shows a lot of wisdom,” she said.

“We have benefited enormously as have our patients. You leave an extraordinary legacy – financial, research and the relationships that have been formed.”

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Calvary and Hunter collaboration enables clinical trial access to an effective new treatment for men with advanced prostate cancer

By Deb,

The collaboration offers local men access to a new type of cancer treatment

A recent collaboration between Medical Oncology Research at Calvary Mater Newcastle and the Department of Nuclear Medicine at Hunter New England Local Health District enables local men to get access to this unique trial of a new kind of treatment, up until now just available in capital cities.

The results from the Australian and New Zealand Urogenital and Prostate Cancer Trials Group (ANZUP) “TheraP” (ANZUP 1603) trial released earlier this year confirmed the effectiveness of a new class of therapy for men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.

Dr Craig Gedye, Senior Staff Specialist Medical Oncology at Calvary Mater Newcastle, explained that prostate cancer that has spread can be treated with hormones and chemotherapy, but if these fail different treatments are needed.

“Giving injections of radioactive drugs has been a standard treatment for thyroid cancer and some rare cancers, but this is a new treatment idea for prostate cancer,” he said.

“This clinical trial is important as it shows that Lu-PSMA is at least as effective as chemotherapy, but has less side-effects. We are really grateful to the Nuclear Medicine team who have enabled the delivery of this new treatment here in Newcastle.”

The results of this trial were recently published in the prestigious journal, The Lancet, as well as being presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Genitourinary Cancers Symposium.

The TheraP trial was the first “theranostics” trial to be offered at Calvary Mater Newcastle through this new collaboration. The hospital’s Medical Oncology Research Trials have since opened a new theranostics trial (called ‘ENZA-p’), combining Lu-PSMA and hormone tablets in men with advanced prostate cancer.

Dr Natalie Rutherford, Clinical Director of Nuclear Medicine at Hunter New England Local Health District, said it is exciting to be able to bring this advanced nuclear medicine treatment to the Hunter region.

“It is humbling to see that the treatment compared favorably with existing treatments,” she said.

“We are keen to explore how we can bring this treatment to men with advanced prostate cancer routinely.”

TheraP (ANZUP 1603) is a partnership between ANZUP Cancer Trials Group and the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) with support from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), the Australasian Radiopharmaceutical Trials Network (ARTnet), Endocyte Inc, a Novartis company, It’s a Bloke Thing, Movember and CAN4CANCER and The University of Sydney NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre providing central study coordination.


Pictured L-R: Tahnee, Jennifer and Nancy – members of the TheraP clinical trial team

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Hunter trial units success

By Deb,

Congratulations to the Hunter New England Cancer Clinical Research Network (CCRN) who was named the winner of the 2020 NSW Premier’s Award for Outstanding Clinical Trials Unit in late November.

The CCRN was recognised for its tenacious efforts to connect people to important, life-changing cancer trials and rewarded for its high level of enrolments in clinical trials.

The Network was established to support a portfolio of cancer clinical trials across the region – giving all residents access to the best possible treatment and care.

First formed in 2007 under an initiative funded by the Cancer Institute NSW and spearheaded by staff at Calvary Mater Newcastle, it now comprises eight clinical trials units in specialised fields and key locations. Within the CCRN, Calvary Mater Newcastle has three key clinical trial units, Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology and Haematology, and is the main centre for cancer clinical trials in the Hunter region.

Dr James Lynam, Calvary Mater Newcastle Medical Oncology Staff Specialist and Network Chairperson, said, “Research showed that patients on clinical trials did better than those not on trials, and the job of the network was to recruit as many people as possible.”

He continues, “The CCRN is a meeting of minds to try and address various challenges that we face locally, and to try and improve how we manage clinical trials, and get people onto clinical trials.”

In 2019 to 2020, the Network robustly recruited to investigator-initiated cancer treatment trials, positioning itself as the leader of enrolments.

The Network had 119 participants enrolled to investigator-initiated trials of novel drugs in medical oncology and haematology as well as radiation oncology and surgery. In addition, many units engaged in phase I trials, dramatically impacting local participants who no longer need to travel long distances for these specialised trials.

Thanks to the hard work of staff across the Hunter New England region, this unique collaboration is positioning itself as a leader in trial recruitment and enrolment.

James concludes, “None of these achievements could have taken place without our patients – they agree to participate in our research and continually inspire us in our work. We couldn’t do it without them.”

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New research office at your service

By Deb,

Calvary Mater Newcastle now has its own research office.

The new office is one of several exciting initiatives that will help Calvary Mater Newcastle achieve its vision of becoming a leader in translational research that will directly benefit patients and improve healthcare for the community.

It will also help streamline procedures and provide valuable support for new and existing researchers across the hospital.

Research governance has previously been facilitated through the Local Health District, Director of Medical Services Dr Maryann Ferreux said.

“Research has grown so much at Calvary Mater Newcastle that we needed our own Research Governance Officer to meet our needs, better support our researchers, build further capacity and growth, and help provide a consistent approach to research across the various areas of the hospital,” she said.

Melissa Gavenlock is the new Research Governance Officer, and Kirsty Sanderson is continuing in her research support role.

Part of Melissa’s role will be to help researchers meet all of their governance requirements right from the start, whether they are new or existing researchers, and keep them informed of what funding and grant opportunities are available to them.

Kirsty will continue to provide support to the hospital’s key research committees, including the Translational Research Advisory Committee, the Research Development and Engagement Committee, and the Clinical Trials Committee.

Calvary Mater Newcastle employs researchers in a broad range of areas to enable clinical trials, biomedical research, applied health services research and population health studies; and is a leader in medical oncology, haematology, radiation oncology, clinical toxicology, psychiatry and palliative care research.

Ensuring governance arrangements that promote accountability and responsibility and meet standards, supporting and developing research capacity at Calvary Mater Newcastle, and encouraging new researchers are part of the hospital’s Translational Research Strategic Plan.

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30 years of global progress against cancer

By Deb,

It has been 30 years since radiation oncologists from Calvary Mater Newcastle joined colleagues from around Australia and across the ditch to establish the Trans-Tasman Radiation Oncology Group or TROG as it is affectionately known. Our clinicians, researchers and patients are still involved in the organisation and in TROG Cancer Research – cancer clinical trials.

TROG has facilitated hundreds of clinical trials that have helped improve the outcome and quality of life for more than 14,500 cancer patients globally. Over that time, the prognosis of cancer patients has improved considerably. In the 1980s the cancer survival rate was less than 50 per cent, today for some cancers the survival rate is as high as 90 per cent.

Providing hope to people with all cancers through one treatment – radiation therapy – TROG Cancer Research has become one of the largest clinical trial groups in Australia and New Zealand working with hospitals, universities, cancer centres and the wider community.

Calvary Mater Newcastle Radiation Oncologist and Associate Professor, Jarad Martin, is amongst many long-term TROG Cancer Research members who have had a significant impact on cancer treatment worldwide through radiation therapy research.

Jarad has contributed to research into an approach that has improved options for patients with prostate cancer. Jarad’s findings are now being used by medical facilities globally and have resulted in a reduction of treatment time from eight weeks to just four weeks with five medical visits for prostate cancer patients.

“There’s a real legacy from what TROG Cancer Research has achieved over thirty years. Their approach to clinical trials that focuses on collaboration over competition is being emulated by other organisations.

“They give opportunities to researchers by providing a vehicle to make their research possible. For me, that opportunity has transformed and improved the way a lot of people with prostate cancer are treated.

“TROG encourages and harnesses new ideas and brings people together virtually from around the world so we can tap into what I call the world brain to produce real results for patients,” Jarad said.

TROG Cancer Research’s CEO, Susan Goode, said it was hard to believe that 30 years has passed since the organisation was founded in 1989. Susan acknowledged the unwavering support of the medical and Australian/New Zealand community as a significant contributor to the organisation’s success.

Susan said, “We’ve come a long way since our humble beginnings in 1989 when members of seven radiation therapy centres across Australia and New Zealand formed clinical trial groups to advance the study of cancers that could be treated with radiation therapy.

Recently retired Radiation Oncology Staff Specialist Professor Jim Denham was one of those involved in establishing the TROG, first chairing the fledgling Australia and New Zealand multi-site group and then becoming its inaugural president.

Susan said, “Today we have medical professionals approaching us from around the world with new ideas on how to use radiation therapy to improve quality of life and treatment of a specific cancer disease. One in two cancer patients will benefit from radiation therapy, so the research we conduct is vital.”

TROG Cancer Research has facilitated over 100 cancer research trials over 30 years to enable researchers to better understand cancer and discover more effective ways of managing and treating it.

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