In my clinical role I work predominantly with colorectal cancer patients but also those with pancreatic cancer.
Ultimately, I do it to make a difference. Firstly, as a clinician and the patients I treat, and secondly by conducting research that teaches ways to better treat and manage patients. That’s probably my biggest motivation – working in the research space and making advances that are relevant to hundreds of thousands of people.
One of the research projects I’ve worked on that is having the most impact is investigating circulating tumour DNA, or ctDNA. What is interesting to us is identifying minimal residual disease. When patients have had surgery to remove cancer and it looks like it has been successful, we try to work out who is at most risk of cancer returning and therefore who would most benefit from chemotherapy, and who may not need it. Our WEHI group is looking at this in colorectal, pancreatic and ovarian cancer, examining ctDNA after surgery and stratifying the risk. We are the first in the world to do a randomised study that shows this information can be used to treat patients.
A lot of my research is around the concept of personalised medicine and trying to get better at defining which patient to treat in certain ways. A common misconception is that we are already in an era of personalised medicine, whereas in most instances, people receive a generic treatment. We are not as far along as we would like to be.
The VCCC Alliance includes a number of research institutes, hospitals and universities working together. You can only do so much working alone. With collaboration we can do a lot more.