Researcher: Professor Nigel McMillan 

On September 24th we celebrate World Cancer Day. Here at Griffith we have a large number of researchers all dedicated to alleviating or curing cancer. In fact Griffith University ranked 10th in the most published cancer articles of any research organisation in Australia. My own laboratory is investigating the new cancer treatments that target the cancer at its very heart – the genes that have gone wrong. Rather than drug that might just target all fast growth cells, which bring with them side effects such as hair loss, we are researching ways of destroying cancer in a very precise way. We have already shown we can cure animals of cancer using this gene editing technique which is a world first. 

Like many of you I have had family members who have passed away from cancer and I am continually getting emails from patients looking to our research as a ray of hope for them. I often pass these along to my students to let them know how incredibly important their research work is. I truly believe cancer will be a disease that in my lifetime we will look back upon as a plague that was a thing of the past. 

Researcher: Professor Sandi Hayes 

There are 145,000 new cases of cancer diagnosed each year in Australia; there is an imperative to understand the impact of the disease and its treatment on the lives of those diagnosed. I am one of the leading professors in a cancer survivorship program at Menzies Health Institute Queensland (MHIQ), Griffith University, that seeks explicitly to understand the concerns faced by those diagnosed and treated for cancer. We research the impact of these concerns on quality of life and survival and look for strategies that can be integrated among cancer care to improve cancer survivorship. I look after the ECHO (Exercise during chemotherapy for ovarian cancer) trial which represents one of only a few exercise oncology trials worldwide designed to quantify the impact of exercise during chemotherapy on survival. Recently, I was fortunate to be awarded funding by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) to extend this novel work to explore the impact of exercise during treatment for recurrent ovarian disease. If the findings from these trials demonstrate that exercise during chemotherapy can enhance the quality and quantity of life of those with ovarian cancer, reduce health care and personal costs it will influence clinical practice guidelines nationally and internationally, and can be translated into standard cancer care quickly and inexpensively. 

During my undergraduate degree in exercise science, the importance of exercise for those diagnosed with cardiovascular disease was receiving significant attention and cardiac rehabilitation became embedded as part of standard care. As a consequence of my early exposure to cancer (my dad died from bowel cancer when I was 6, my uncle died from a brain tumour when I was 13 and at 19 I was diagnosed with melanoma) alongside what I was learning about the role of exercise on health and function, I quickly became interested in understanding what we knew about the role of exercise in cancer. Interestingly, while it was understood that being insufficiently physically active or sedentary increased risk of certain cancers, such as breast and colorectal cancer, little was known about the role of exercise post cancer, and the advice given to cancer patients at that time was to ‘take it easy; rest’. This however was completely counterintuitive to what I was learning in my undergraduate degree, which in turn made me question more and inevitably set me on a research path in attempts to answer these questions. And the more I learned, the more it became obvious that with ‘rest’ came increased risk of treatment-related side effects, declines in quality of life and potentially poorer prognosis following cancer. With this knowledge, the next step was to understand what side effects are experienced by whom, and can (and how) we incorporate exercise into standard cancer care safely, feasibly and effectively. 

Researcher: Dr Charrlotte Sieb 

Today, gynaecological cancer continues to be a major cause of disease and premature death in many parts of the world. In Australia specifically, an estimated 6,652 women will be diagnosed with gynaecological cancer in 2020, accounting for almost 10% of all new female cancer cases. While five-year relative survival for gynaecological cancers has improved in recent decades, the cancer and its management can be distressing and may lead to poor physical and emotional health. 

My work aims to enhance the health and wellbeing of women with gynaecological cancer through the development and implementation of evidence-based supportive care resources. As a leading professor at Women’s Wellness in Menzies Health Institute Queensland at Griffith University, together with research funding support by Cancer Australia and in collaboration with consumer and industry partners, we have developed a screening tool to help health care professionals identify and better manage distress in this population group.

In 2017, I nursed my mother’s best friend, Auntie Barb, as she passed away from ovarian cancer. This major event is what led me to move from women’s health and women’s cancer research more generally, to an increased focus on the health and wellbeing of women affected by gynaecological cancers.