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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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Christmas comes early for researchers

By Deb,

Christmas came early for several Calvary Mater Newcastle staff who presented collaborative research projects in a chilly Banff to 700 like-minded health care professionals at the 21st World Congress of Psycho-Oncology.

Gastrointestinal Cancer Care Co-Ordinator Cath Johnson presented a poster on integrating supportive care screening and assessment into routine clinical care, work she had conducted with Radiation Oncology Nurse Practitioner Yolande Cox, Clinical Psychologist Kerrie Clover, and Erin Forbes, from the University of Newcastle’s School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Much of the work presented during the meeting was about how to integrate screening into routine care when you have large numbers of patients, how to interpret the data provided by screening over time and responding to the needs identified by patients,” Cath said.

The cost of screening and issues of inclusivity and accessibility for patients with low levels of literacy and patients with a disability continue to be challenging, she said.

Cath also presented on recent work with patients and carers to develop the CANcierge app at a special symposium on how ehealth tools can enhance patient-centred psychosocial care. The smartphone app helps cancer patients to navigate services, improve treatment experiences and enhance capacity for self-care.

Social workers Julia Drake and Noelle Gallant presented a poster on caring for caring professionals in a cancer hospital. The research into compassion, fatigue, burnout and distress in the workplace was conducted with colleagues Emma Sturgess and Melissa Walker.

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An intervention to improve quality of life for women

By Deb,

How can we help women undergoing toxic chemotherapy avoid early menopause, infertility and other potential consequences of ovarian failure?

That was a question uppermost in Dr Janine Lombard’s mind when she joined an international research team to investigate the use of a drug that temporarily puts ovaries to sleep.

The Medical Oncology Staff Specialist was the lead local investigator for the Prevention of Early Menopause study, known as POEMS. It tested the use of the drug Goserelin, which suppresses hormone production.

Worldwide, 257 premenopausal women took part, five of them from Calvary Mater Newcastle. Each was undergoing chemotherapy for a specific type of early breast cancer. Half of the women received the drug while the remainder received chemotherapy only. The phase 3 randomised study compared rates of ovarian failure at two years, the rate of ovarian dysfunction, and pregnancy outcomes.

Early menopause, infertility and osteoporosis are all signs of ovarian failure, a potentially devastating effect of toxic chemotherapy.

“There is good evidence from POEMS that premature menopause and future pregnancy is improved by using Goserelin during chemotherapy,” Dr Lombard said.

“This very simple intervention can significantly improve quality of life for women with early breast cancer.”

“We found continued evidence that patients randomly assigned to receive Goserelin and chemotherapy were not only more likely to avoid premature menopause, but were also more likely to become pregnant without adverse effect on disease-related outcomes.”

Results from the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show that women given the drug before and during chemotherapy had reduced rates of ovarian failure (8 per cent) compared with those who had no additional protection during chemotherapy (22 per cent). Pregnancy rates were also higher.

Good news for women is that Goserelin is now freely available on the PBS and can be used in any tumour type where fertility preservation/prevention of early menopause is regarded as important.

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Positive results

By Deb,

Physiotherapist Dr Aoife McGarvey has presented the results of a trial to improve referral to physiotherapy and physiotherapy care for head and neck cancer patients at the Australia and New Zealand Head and Neck Cancer Scientific Meeting in Adelaide.

The multi-centre controlled trial took place at Calvary Mater Newcastle, John Hunter Hospital, Royal North Shore Hospital and Liverpool Hospital.

The trial demonstrated significant improvements in the screening of physical issues and referral to physiotherapy where physiotherapists were involved and leading the intervention (the Royal North Shore Hospital site) compared to the control site at Liverpool Hospital.

Dr McGarvey obtained a two-year implantation project grant to conduct the trial through the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance in 2017.

Aoife said, “We are aiming for these results to attract wider funding for a broader translation of this model of enhanced physiotherapy care for head and neck cancer patients in the future”.

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Changing the outcomes

By Deb,

Calvary Mater Newcastle came out winners at the 2019 Annual Scientific Meeting (ASM) of Australasian Gastro-Intestinal Trials Group (AGITG) held this September.

The meeting was themed ‘Challenging the enigmatic nature of gastro-intestinal cancers’, with a focus on rare and underfunded cancers and cancer subtypes.

Congratulations to a dynamic team that included staff from Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology and Clinical Trials, who were winners of the AGITG 2019 Best of Posters for ‘Palliative Oesophageal Chemoradiotherapy: A Phase I Clinical Trial’.

The Phase I study looked at improving dysphagia for patients with oesophageal cancer. Dr Swetha Sridharan, Radiation Oncology Staff Specialist, accepted the award on behalf of the group.

Professor Jarad Martin, Radiation Oncology Staff Specialist, said of the win, “This is essentially the best proffered paper prize for a very prestigious meeting, so a great achievement. This success is naturally built on the contributions of a huge team. A few I’d like to single out are Jasmin who wrote the original protocol, Fiona who has championed it within Medical Oncology, Jo who helped for a long time with the accrual, and Brandan who assisted with the analysis.

“We are now gearing up for the successor study PALEO where we incorporate immunotherapy and SBRT as well, aiming to open later this year.”

Congratulations also to the Medical Oncology Research (MOR) Trials group who received the AGITG Outstanding Site Award, accepted on behalf of the group by Naomi Knoblauch, Medical Oncology Clinical Trials Data Manager.

Kim Adler, Medical Oncology Clinical Trial Nurse Consultant, said, “MOR Trials is currently recruiting to six AGITG trials, with another due to activate. We often meet or exceed our recruitment targets, and for ASCOLT and DYNAMIC-Rectal we have enrolled double the number of patients expected. We are also participating in sub studies for these trials which ask important scientific questions.”

Calvary Mater Newcastle is responsible for the management of the ClinTrial Refer Oncology NSW smartphone app, which lists actively recruiting studies at 38 sites across the state. This has led to more patients from private centres being referred to the site.

AGITG is the only research organisation in the Australasian region with a focus on gastro-intestinal cancers. Widely known throughout Australasia as the premier meeting in the gastro-intestinal (GI) cancer space, the AGITG Annual Scientific Meeting provides a forum where, on behalf of GI cancer patients, the enigmatic nature of gastro-intestinal cancer is challenged.

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Below the belt

By Deb,

Dr Craig Gedye, Calvary Mater Newcastle Medical Oncology Staff Specialist, was recently successful in securing a “Below the Belt Research Fund Award” supported by the Australian and New Zealand Urogenital and Prostate Cancer Trials Group (ANZUP) for ‘AdapTax’.

AdapTax is a clinical trial designed to test the idea of taking breaks off a standard chemotherapy called ‘docetaxel’ for men with metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer.

This much needed research grant will allow clinicians and the Medical Oncology Research (MOR) unit at the hospital to explore a new approach to treating metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer. These treatments aim to suit the individual needs of the patients rather than asking men to fit into strict treatment schedules.

Once the docetaxel is controlling the cancer, the treatment will be stopped. The docetaxel will then be restarted when the cancer starts to regain control. It is hoped that patients may be able to stop and restart the treatment again and again and again. While every man’s cancer is predicted to eventually become resistant to the chemotherapy treatment, using an effective treatment more sparingly is hoped to spread the benefit over a longer period of time, without any more side-effects.

The Medical Oncology Research Unit at the Mater is a well-established experienced team of dedicated clinicians, clinical trial coordinators, data managers, laboratory technicians and administrative support. The unit works to deliver a diverse range of quality clinical trials to provide cancer patients in the Hunter Region with access to emerging therapies as a standard of care. The unit works hard to future-proof and support the hospital’s ever expanding portfolio of clinical trials.

Dr Craig Gedye and Kelly Healey, members of the MOR Clinical Trials Unit, will also be participating in the ‘Below the Belt Pedalthon’ to raise much needed funds to continue to support the research into ‘Below the Belt’ cancers.

Anyone wishing to support them in their fundraising campaign can do so by following the links below.

Every cent raised through the Below the Belt Pedalthon and supporters’ kind donations goes directly towards clinical trial research via the Below the Belt Research Fund.

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Funding innovation

By Deb,

Dr Jonathan Goodwin, MRI Physicist, Department of Radiation Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, is one of five recipients of the Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF) Brain Cancer Innovation Project Grants.

Jonathan and his team are exploring a novel magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) based approach to glucose metabolism measurement in head and neck cancer patients.

The ability to accurately measure glucose metabolism in brain cancer using MRI, could have a significant impact on clinical practice. Such a technology would allow far greater insight into the treatment response process through follow up scan sessions and could have a significant impact on cancer staging.

The five highly innovative brain cancer research projects received more than $725,000 in funding from the Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF) following a nationwide call-out and scientific review by experts in the field. The grant rounds will be conducted over one to two years, with the ultimate aim of solving the riddle of brain cancer.

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Ten year prostate cancer trial proves optimal treatment duration

By Deb,

Results from Australia’s and New Zealand’s biggest cancer trial have identified the best treatment regime for men suffering from newly-diagnosed aggressive but localised prostate cancer.

Professor Jim Denham, Calvary Mater Newcastle Department of Radiation Oncology Staff Specialist, headed Australia and New Zealand’s biggest cancer trial in identifying the best treatment regime for men suffering from newly-diagnosed aggressive but localised prostate cancer.

The RADAR study, run through TROG Cancer Research, of which Calvary Mater Newcastle was a trial site, compared the use of hormone treatment (longer versus short term use) coupled with radiation therapy.

This trial enrolled 1,071 men with locally advanced prostate cancer at 23 treatment centres across Australia and New Zealand, who were monitored over a 10-year period. All men received six months of testosterone suppression therapy, using the drug leuprorelin, followed by radiotherapy. Participants were then randomly allocated to have either an additional 12 months of testosterone suppression therapy (18 months in total) or no further treatment.

The trial found that the 18 months testosterone suppression therapy option plus radiotherapy emerged as the most effective, compared to the six month time period.

Professor Jim Denham said these findings showed a 30 per cent reduction in deaths due to prostate cancer as well as a 40 per cent reduction in cancer spreading (metastases) to other areas of the body.

“We also found that men who received the 18 months of treatment did not experience more side effects or impaired quality of life factors than those who received the six months of hormone treatment.

“The confirmation that quality of life in men treated on the RADAR trial was not inferior to quality of life outcomes in Australian men of the same age, 10 years after treatment, came from the 421 men who participated in our ‘Life ten years after prostate cancer treatment’ sub-study.

“Around 17,000 Australian men each year are diagnosed with prostate cancer and we are constantly looking at ways to beat this disease which sees so many men go undiagnosed for a long period of time.

“Thanks to this trial men with newly-diagnosed aggressive but localised prostate cancer can be spared the many long-term side effects associated with longer durations of testosterone suppression (28 to 36 months), which have commonly been used in conjunction with radiotherapy around the world,” said Professor Denham.

Seventy five year old Colin Sandeman was one of the men who volunteered to participate in the trial.

“I didn’t even hesitate when my doctor asked if I wanted to participate in this clinical trial. I had the 18 months of hormone treatment and the impact on my life was minimal.”

“I don’t think about having prostate cancer now. It’s in the past. I’m normal, and so many other blokes are too – they’re curing a lot of people,” Colin said.

Today, at the age of 75 Colin has returned to his normal life. He’s back into sailing and canoeing and tending to his beloved bees.

The results of this longitudinal study were recently published in the prestigious journal, The Lancet Oncology.

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Collaborating for a cure

By Deb,

Calvary Mater Newcastle and local charity Hope4Cure Foundation have joined forces this Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, to support women and their families experiencing ovarian and gynaecological cancer in the Hunter region.

Following a $40,000 donation from Hope4Cure Foundation, Calvary Mater Newcastle launched a special research grant for its researchers to help bolster research in ovarian and gynaecological cancer.

Dr Jennette Sakoff, Chief Hospital Scientist, Medical Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and her collaborator, Prof Janice Aldrich-Wright from Western Sydney University, are the recipients of the inaugural Hope4Cure Grant Fund. The funds will go towards a project to pursue the development of new platinum-based molecules for the treatment of ovarian cancer.

Dr Jennette Sakoff explains, “Platinum-based compounds have been used for the treatment of cancer since the 1960’s. These agents kill cancer cells by binding to DNA. However, they do have side-effects such as kidney and nerve toxicity, and cancers do become resistant to their use over time. To overcome these problems we need to discover agents that function differently and which only target the cancer cells and not healthy cells.

“The team has discovered a unique class of platinum-based compounds that are different to the standard platinum-based intravenous chemotherapy treatments such as cisplatin, carboplatin or oxaliplatin. These compounds are very selective at targeting ovarian cancer cells. Indeed, they are 1,000 times more potent at killing ovarian cancer cells grown in the laboratory compared with non-cancer cells and cells derived from other tumour types. The funds will be used to understand why this occurs and how can we exploit this for the development of better treatments for ovarian cancer.”

Sarah Frith, Co-Founder, Hope4Cure Foundation, said, “We are so pleased to be able to support local researchers make advancements in ovarian and gynaecological cancer. We are fortunate to have the unwavering support of the local community, who have supported our fundraisers. Last year, 100 per cent of the funds raised from our Christmas in July event has contributed to the Hope4Cure Grant Fund, totalling $40,000. We’d like to offer our sincere gratitude to the attendees at the event, the wonderful businesses who supported by providing prizes and auction items, and to everyone who made the night a huge success and have enabled this important grant to be established.”

Ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of any women’s cancer. Each day in Australia, four women are diagnosed with the disease and three will die. One in 10 Australians know someone who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Calvary Mater Newcastle and local charity Hope4Cure Foundation have joined forces this Ovarian Cancer Awareness month, to support women and their families experiencing ovarian and gynaecological cancer in the Hunter region.

Following a $40,000 donation from Hope4Cure Foundation, Calvary Mater Newcastle launched a special research grant for its researchers to help bolster research in ovarian and gynaecological cancer.

Dr Jennette Sakoff, Chief Hospital Scientist, Medical Oncology, Calvary Mater Newcastle, and her collaborator, Prof Janice Aldrich-Wright from Western Sydney University, are the recipients of the inaugural Hope4Cure Grant Fund. The funds will go towards a project to pursue the development of new platinum-based molecules for the treatment of ovarian cancer.

Dr Jennette Sakoff explains, “Platinum-based compounds have been used for the treatment of cancer since the 1960’s. These agents kill cancer cells by binding to DNA. However, they do have side-effects such as kidney and nerve toxicity, and cancers do become resistant to their use over time. To overcome these problems we need to discover agents that function differently and which only target the cancer cells and not healthy cells.

“The team has discovered a unique class of platinum-based compounds that are different to the standard platinum-based intravenous chemotherapy treatments such as cisplatin, carboplatin or oxaliplatin. These compounds are very selective at targeting ovarian cancer cells. Indeed, they are 1,000 times more potent at killing ovarian cancer cells grown in the laboratory compared with non-cancer cells and cells derived from other tumour types. The funds will be used to understand why this occurs and how can we exploit this for the development of better treatments for ovarian cancer.”

Sarah Frith, Co-Founder, Hope4Cure Foundation, said, “We are so pleased to be able to support local researchers make advancements in ovarian and gynaecological cancer. We are fortunate to have the unwavering support of the local community, who have supported our fundraisers. Last year, 100 per cent of the funds raised from our Christmas in July event has contributed to the Hope4Cure Grant Fund, totalling $40,000. We’d like to offer our sincere gratitude to the attendees at the event, the wonderful businesses who supported by providing prizes and auction items, and to everyone who made the night a huge success and have enabled this important grant to be established.”

Ovarian cancer has the lowest survival rate of any women’s cancer. Each day in Australia, four women are diagnosed with the disease and three will die. One in 10 Australians know someone who has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

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