Researcher at Queensland University of Technology
Lung cancer: development of a novel therapeutic

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SUMMARY

Lung cancer is among the most commonly diagnosed cancers worldwide and is additionally the most common cause of death from cancer. A common misconception is that lung cancer is a disease of smokers. This is not true, and anyone can develop lung cancer. Before we can cure cancer, we must identify the basic biology behind each type of cancer in order fully treat the disease. My research at the Cancer and Ageing Research Program has identified a key DNA repair protein called COMMD4, that is present at higher levels in lung cancer patients and leads to poor patient survival. My research focuses on restoring COMMD4 to normal levels in lung cancer patients, by therapeutically targeting COMMD4. Our lung cancer therapeutic that we are currently testing in the laboratory will target patients with the most aggressive forms of lung cancer, and if successful, will help patients with the worst outcomes.

BENEFIT – A description of the benefit of your work to Queensland (max 500 words)

My research at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) seeks to develop a novel therapeutic for the treatment of lung cancer. The Australian Cancer Council along with recent international research from the USA and by Cancer Research UK, has predicted that the global cancer burden is set to increase more than 75% by the year 2030. Cancer incidence rates in Queensland are among the highest in the world and the growth in new cases of cancer is largely being driven by lifestyle, population growth and ageing. Cancer in the ageing population will be Queensland's greatest health problem within 10 years. Although we know how to reduce our statistical chance of getting cancer, we cannot avoid it. Cancer as well as being a huge threat to our quality of life and mortality, also has significant costs to our health service and to our economy as a whole.

Current first line chemotherapeutics are often toxic and have reduced quality of life for the patient. While there have been advances in immunotherapy, we are still unable to cure most cancers and furthermore, these advances are extremely expensive with many costing in excess of $140,000 per patient. 

My research seeks to step closer to the development of a novel therapeutic for the treatment of lung cancer. Lung cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed types of cancer worldwide and is the most common cause of cancer death worldwide and in Queensland. Lung cancer accounts for approximately 23% of cancer deaths in males and approximately 16% of cancer deaths in females in Queensland. There is a real need for better, less toxic and cheaper therapeutics for the treatment of lung cancer in Queensland. My research addresses the Queensland Science and Research priorities of 'Keep Queenslanders healthy and Create jobs in a strong economy'. Cancer as well as being a huge threat to quality of life and mortality, additionally has significant costs to our health service and our economy. New cancer therapies are needed to improve patient outcomes and to improve the quality of life of cancer patients.

The development of any therapeutic that provides an advance in care for Queenslanders would have a significant social and economic impact. My research at QUT outlines the progression of a therapeutic, from 'bench-to-bedside', with the benefit to Queensland through the increased survival of cancer patients.

ROLE MODEL – Why do you think you are a good role model for women and girls aspiring to work in STEM? (max 500 words)

I am a scientist who is passionate about research and is driven by the need for novel, less toxic cancer therapeutics. I am a strong advocate for engaging with the community and passing on the wonder and importance of scientific research, especially at the primary school level. I believe that primary school students are at an age where they are earnestly impressionable and possess the most potential. We need them to be excited about science and technology as they are the future of STEM research. 

As a women and mother of primary school aged children, I feel that I can particularly relate to inspiring women and girl STEM researchers and show that that there is diversity in STEM and women are not only role models to our children but to any aspiring researcher. While approximately 90% of all Nobel prizes have been awarded to men, this does not mean that we as women do less important research. While society and STEM is moving towards lessening the gender gap, I believe that it is our job as women researchers to show that we have an important part to play in the success and continuation of STEM. 

Having had the privilege of doing my Postdoctoral studies in Cambridge, UK, I have supported and witnessed cutting edge, groundbreaking research and attended inspirational research seminars by Nobel laureates including James Watson, Aron Klugg, John Gurdon and Venki Ramakrishnan. Surrounded by such inspirational scientific leaders in Cambridge has driven me towards research excellence in my career. I have seen ‘scientific greats’ in action during my Postdoctoral tenure at Cambridge and I contributed to important research while I was there. It was both a humbling and awe-inspiring experience to work in such an environment and I would love to bring that feeling and vigour to mentor aspiring STEM researchers. I want to inspire women and girls and bring hope to those who need it the most, by tackling and answering important medical research questions. I want to motivate our next generation of female STEM researchers to aim high and remind them that even though we are a geographically isolated country, it does not necessarily mean that we can’t make significant scientific discoveries in Australia. World history is replete with Australian scientists who have changed the world through their work.

ENGAGEMENT – Describe any STEM promotion or engagement activities that you have undertaken, including both scientific and non-scientific audiences, particularly with women and girls (maximum 500 words)

As a strong advocate for engaging with the community, I am currently a Queensland Flying Scientist. I have been engaging with rural Queenslanders and have actively promoted the importance of STEM research in this role since 2021. My most recent event, as a Queensland Flying Scientist, was with Sparklab with Year 3/4 Bli Bli State School students at the Queensland Museum. We discussed the role of a scientist and understood the basic unit of life, the cell, reviewed how cells become cancerous and concluded with the importance of STEM research. I regularly engage with the community on the importance of science by volunteering for community events such as, the World Science Festival in Brisbane. At the Translational Research Institute (TRI) stall at the World Science Festival, I have met aspiring scientists and curious individuals interested in what we do. 

Further highlighting community engagement, I have volunteered for Brisbane Open House at TRI since 2016, where members of the community were given a tour of TRI and scientists discussed the importance of our research and our passion to make a difference. At the Cancer and Ageing Research Program (CARP) at QUT we regularly have Work Integrated Learning Students (WILS) from QUT undergraduate degrees and additionally mentor high school work experience students from Queensland. I have mentored over 10 WILS students over the last five years and along with the high school work experience students, at CARP we provide the students with a snapshot of our research and hopefully inspire the next generation of STEM researchers. 

At my local primary school, Brisbane Central State School, I have additionally on numerous occasions given talks highlighting the importance of STEM subjects and scientific research.

Highlighting STEM promotion, I have been a member of the QUT women in STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) since 2016. As part of the QUT women in STEMM, I have attended and participated in numerous workshops to promote equity and equality in the STEMM fields. As part of the women in STEMM program, I have gained invaluable career mentoring, training, professional development, and support for maintaining a STEMM career in today’s world. As an ambassador for the European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) I have promoted cancer research to researchers worldwide and have disseminated the importance and bought awareness of cancer research in improving lives of sufferers. I regularly write articles for the EACR magazine, ‘the Cancer Researcher’, and highlight the challenges we researchers have faced during the Covid-19 pandemic and on overcoming adversities in our careers.

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