HUNTER researchers have received almost $2 million in funding to develop a personalised chemotherapy dosing system for cancer patients.
University of Newcastle pharmacology professor Jennifer Martin’s team was awarded a grant worth $1.96 million at Cancer Council NSW’s annual Research Awards in Sydney on Tuesday, where more than $10.6 million in funding was divided between 17 “ground-breaking” projects across the state.
Professor Martin said the money would help provide cancer patients with optimal and personalised chemotherapy dosing to improve quality of life, increase survival rates, and reduce side effects.
“We know that about 20-to-30 per cent of people actually get too much drug for what they need, but it’s very difficult to predict who that 20-to-30 per cent will be,” Professor Martin said.
“But also, there is about the same number of people who don’t get enough drug, because, for example, the drug gets broken down in their body much more quickly than what we would expect.
“Our team wants to find out whether a patient has enough drug on board, enough drug in their blood, and therefore, enough drug to have cancer-fighting ability, without making people unnecessarily sick from the side effects of too much drug.”
By monitoring chemotherapy levels early in treatment, clinicians would be able to adjust doses to achieve the ideal blood level.
“If we take a blood test, then with the subsequent doses, we can get a much more accurate dose for that particular patient,” she said.
The research would be based in Newcastle, but it would benefit people living throughout NSW, including remote and rural areas.
Rather than relying solely on standard blood tests, the research team had developed a finger-prick blood test to ensure people living outside of the Hunter region could access the same information to guide their cancer treatment.
“People living in rural and remote areas can do a finger-prick test, and we can advise the prescribing doctor what the level is, and therefore guide them as to how much more, or less drug, this person is likely to need,” Professor Martin said.
“We want to find a local solution to what is not even just a state-wide problem, but a national problem, to use the current drugs we have much more effectively and much more efficiently.”
The research team was delighted, “but also really grateful,” for the significant funding boost which would not be possible without community contributions to the Cancer Council.
“A lot of the cancer funding often goes to the big research centres, and I think we are big in Newcastle,” she said. “We are big with our skill-sets, we are big with our people, we are big with our links to the community, and our link to the healthcare system. So I think this is an opportunity for people to see that Newcastle really is up with the rest of the institutes, doing high class research that will have an impact, and will have a big effect, on improving cancer outcomes.”
Cancer Council Hunter Central Coast regional manager, Shayne Connell, said the local community had been invaluable in raising funds to support the work of researchers like Professor Martin.
“Professor Martin and her team, as well as many of the research teams we have funded this year, are world leaders in their area of specialty, and are positioned to rapidly translate their findings into practice,” he said.
“We are excited to be able to fund pioneering new ways to treat cancer – our funding recipients are all extraordinary scientists who do essential and highly innovative work.
“We’d also like to thank our supporters – as an organisation that is over 95 per cent community funded, these grants truly have been made possible by the community.”