Getting personal with cancer treatment

Professor Ross McKinnon is a world renowned cancer researcher who has a very personal motivation for improving the experiences of people undergoing cancer treatment.

Professor Ross McKinnon is a world renowned cancer researcher who has a very personal motivation to make a difference.

In 2001, his wife Wendy developed aggressive breast cancer. Her treatment regime was arduous, leaving her with significant side effects and a poor quality of life. As a scientist herself, she would constantly question why things couldn’t be better. Sadly, Wendy passed away a year later, leaving Professor McKinnon with a burning ambition to improve the lives of people undergoing cancer treatment.

Today, Professor McKinnon and his research team are funded by Cancer Council to do just that. He is working to identify new cancer treatment strategies and optimise existing treatments. Put simply, he wants to maximise outcomes and minimise distress.

Cancer Council funding helps to iron out the rough spots that traditional research funding can leave. It also allows us to take chances, do the types of innovative but important studies that may not normally receive government funding.

Professor Ross McKinnon

At the Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer (FCIC), Professor McKinnon’s team is working to understand why people respond to cancer treatments in different ways. They are looking to identify the cellular markers associated with a good treatment response. Doctors could then test for these for when deciding which treatment is going to work best in their patients.

Professor McKinnon’s research is already having a huge impact on people’s lives. Ryan Hodges was only 32 when he received two pieces of life changing news – that he was expecting his first child and that he was living with inoperable lung cancer – within a week of each other.

I was 32, fit and healthy, never smoked a day in my life so being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer was a massive shock. My CT scan showed that I had a 3.5 inch tumour in the lower right lobe in my right lung. My cancer was inoperable.

Ryan Hodges

At FCIC, Ryan received treatment therapy that was targeted to specific changes in his tumour. His treatment was optimised by the research supported by Cancer Council and it has had a significant impact on his condition, reducing the size of the tumour and drastically improving his quality of life.

When we started the targeted therapy I found that my breathing improved within a couple of days. Then by five months later I went back in and had another CT scan which showed that the cancer had reduced by over 90%. It was the targeted therapy that was really the key element that gave us a significant amount of time - that is such a precious thing.

Ryan Hodges

This exciting work is being conducted with the long term support of Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer Project, a flagship research collaboration between Cancer Council SA, the State Government, SAHMRI and the Universities. To date, the project has funded more than 200 individual research initiatives across a range of cancer areas, supporting not just research activity but also the researchers themselves.

Funding from Cancer Council is absolutely critical to everything we do. Good cancer research needs momentum and momentum needs a continuity of funding. I don’t know how we would achieve what we do without funding from Cancer Council.

Professor Ross McKinnon

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