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Dedicated to a better way

Professor Ross McKinnon lost his wife to cancer sixteen years ago.

Diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer at only 38 years of age, Professor McKinnon’s wife, Wendy, sadly passed away only 15 months later. Watching the way the treatment impacted her quality of life during this short time, was heartbreaking.

Because of this, Professor McKinnon made a commitment to devote his life’s work to finding better ways to treat people with cancer.

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“It wasn’t just her death, it was the fact that she had a very difficult clinical course and much of the difficulty came from medicines. Either side effects of medicines or inappropriate use of medicines.

So, I just saw opportunities really to make a difference in that space.”

 

Wendy with Lockie and Jesse

Wendy with Lockie and Jesse

Ross’ wife, Wendy, was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer when she was only 38 years old. Just 15 months later she lost her life to the disease, leaving behind her two young children aged three and six.

“She was pretty much unwell from the time she was diagnosed,” says Ross.

“She had chemotherapy, which was standard care. She responded very, very well as aggressive tumours often do.

“But then her cancer became resistant after the fourth cycle and so then she went into this pathway of new drugs and managing the side effects.

“It became quite distressing.”

One of the drugs Wendy was taking caused a side effect called hand-foot syndrome. It causes swelling, redness and pain in the feet and hands. Wendy experienced it quite severely and it limited her mobility.

“At that time, although that side effect is predictable now, we didn’t do the tests to actually work out whether you were someone who was likely to have it.

“The drugs made it so that it was really quite brutal.

“I responded to that by saying we need to do better, we need to have not just better drugs but use the drugs we have in a much more optimal fashion.”

Targeted therapies for cancer patients

According to Professor McKinnon, one of the most exciting research projects he’s involved in is the precision medicine program. Its aim is to try and optimise targeted therapies to achieve better outcomes for cancer patients.

“It’s not that long ago that all we had was chemotherapy,” says Professor McKinnon.

“We now have a lot more in the way of a ‘therapeutic arsenal’ and one of the exciting things for the future of cancer is how we use that to the greatest effect – to use new combinations of therapies from the things we’ve already discovered.”

Professor Ross McKinnon and his team at the Flinders Centre for Innovation and Cancer.
Professor Ross McKinnon and his team at the Flinders Centre for Innovation and Cancer.

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