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Personalised dosing the future of Australian cancer treatment

Thursday 19 August, 2021

The research, which is funded by a three-year Cancer Council SA Beat Cancer Fellowship together with funding from Flinders University, aims to understand why patients react differently to different cancer medicines.

Lead researcher Dr Madelé van Dyk says that through her research, she hopes to move away from a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to a more personalised approach that considers every person’s individual characteristics in cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“Every person is different in so many ways, so it makes sense that each person reacts differently when undergoing cancer treatment,” she said.

“Selecting the right drug and selecting the right amount of drug is the ultimate goal in Precision Medicine. We’re selecting the right type of drug really well, but are only half-way there, because we’re still using a ‘one-size-fits-all’ dose. I believe we can do better.”

Working with oncologists and cancer patients, Dr van Dyk and her team have set up Australia’s first Therapeutic Drug Monitoring Program, ensuring that every eligible South Australian patient can have their drug levels tested through their oncologist, at any hospital, public or private, including those in remote areas.

Currently the team are able to test the levels for six cancer drugs used to treat multiple types of advanced cancers of the lung, stomach, liver, kidney and blood. By the end of her research project, Dr van Dyk’s aim is to increase the list to as many drugs as possible and offer the service Australia wide.

By monitoring drug levels throughout treatment, Dr van Dyk and her team can ensure that patients are receiving the right dose to make the biggest impact on their treatment.

Ryan Hodges was diagnosed with highly advanced stage 4 lung cancer in 2014 at just 32. He has been working alongside the team at Flinders since 2015 and credits research for giving him more time with his young family.

“I was fit and healthy and 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 said.

“When I was first diagnosed with cancer, the prognosis was not a good one. 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 per cent. It was the targeted therapy that was really the key element that gave, and continues to give me, a significant amount of time, which is such a precious thing.”

“When you are diagnosed with cancer, the first thing you think of is time. How much time will I have with my family? Will I get to see my children grow up? I’m incredibly passionate about this research, and know that without it, I wouldn’t be here today.”

Dr van Dyk said Ryan’s story, like countless others, inspires her every day.

“I saw what Ryan has gone through, the challenges he faced and thought that patients like them, and all patients, deserve better. It’s their stories, and the hope that we can do better, that motivates me every day”

“It's only through the incredible support of Cancer Council that this research is even possible. Through their support, I believe I can make a real difference to the future of cancer treatment and give more Australians diagnosed with cancer the precious gift of time.”

Dr van Dyk is one of hundreds of cancer researchers across the country funded through Cancer Council. With Cancer Council’s Daffodil Day Appeal running throughout August, Victorians are urged to dig deep to help fund other ground-breaking projects

“Cancer Council is the largest independent funder of cancer research in Australia. In 2019, Cancer Council and its research partners directed almost $62.9 million to research grants for vital research projects across Australia,” said Cancer Council Victoria CEO Todd Harper.

“Thanks to investment in research, amazing advancements have been made in cancer prevention, screening and treatment - helping to increase survival rates from 49 per cent in the 1980s to 69 per cent today.”

“Through supporting research projects like Dr van Dyk’s this Daffodil Day appeal, you will be funding ground-breaking research that will lead us closer to a cancer free future every day.”

Cancer Council’s Daffodil Day appeal runs throughout August, culminating in Daffodil Day on Friday 27 August. You can show your Flower Power this Daffodil Day Appeal and make a donation today at daffodilday.com.au.