Fellowships provide our Australian researchers with time to do what they do best – Research

For the first time, the Snowdome Foundation pivoted its annual Blood Sweat and Tears of Joy educational event from face-to-face to virtual.  This increased access and participation, enabling involvement from speakers in the USA, Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales!  The event showcased the extraordinary depth of blood cancer research and clinician talent in Australia.

Prof Miles Prince AM hosted the evening opening with Dr Kylee MacLachlan who is currently completing her PhD investigating novel drug combinations for the treatment of multiple myeloma.  Kylee is conducting this research at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York which is the largest clinical trial centre in the world.  Kylee aims to bring the skills and knowledge she acquires during her stay in the USA, back to Australia. Kylee is partially funded by the Snowdome Foundation.  The work she is undertaking and the passion she has for this area of research is inspiring.   We need to continue to foster this international collaboration and learning to bring the best knowledge back to Australia. You can listen to Kylee’s interview here.

Our live panel consisted of Assoc Prof Dan Thomas, Dr Michael Dickinson and Prof Judith Trottman. Professor Miles Prince quizzed them on what drove them to choose the difficult career path of a clinical researcher.  What was evident from each panel member was their passion to find better treatments and better ways of approaching cancer management than we currently have.

Assoc Prof Dan Thomas has recently returned from Stanford University researching the metabolism of acute myeloid leukaemia cells.  Rapid advances are being made in this area due to new technology that enables human cells to be grown in mice enabling small molecules to be tested much quicker, eliminating years of research time.   The capabilities being developed and fostered in the Australian research environment are enabling research institutes to develop and build their own small molecules, as we saw with venetoclax.  Dan stated, “My dream is a future with many targeted therapies that have been developed in-house here in Australia!” His dream is fast becoming a reality as his team have succeeded in building a small molecule that is currently looking very promising.

Dr Michael Dickinson is known as the CAR T-cell therapy expert in Victoria.  Humbly, Michael attributes his career path to serendipity and good luck however, Snowdome recognised his drive, brilliant mind and passion for research.  Funded through the attribution of generous donations, Michael, under the mentorship of Prof Miles Prince was awarded a Fellowship enabling him to work on lymphoma trials.  Michael commented that “to have a career as a researcher and a clinician you need the funding, a donor and a mentor to make it all happen”.  The fellowship that was created for him through donations to Snowdome provided him with an opportunity. It gave him time and space to think, to create and to discover.   Michael is currently the Principal investigator of a global clinical trial and his career is going from strength-to-strength with each discovery he makes.  But ultimately for Michael, it is all about the patients as he stated, “it is wonderful to have tricks in my bag such as access to a new treatment via a clinical trial to offer to blood cancer patients that leads to wellness and a longer, better life.”

Prof Judith Trottman is a passionate lymphoma clinician researcher.  Judith reminded us all that it is not just the drug treatments we need to explore; we need to also have a better understanding of the genetic biology of the blood cancer to tailor the therapy.  Judith is currently looking at the role of PET scanning to understand when it is necessary to continue maintenance treatment and which patients benefit from ceasing treatment.  Judith spoke of her passion to support women in research to break down the barriers that currently sit in our society.  To support her passion, Judith founded Women in Lymphoma (WiL) which is a global collaborative alliance of lymphoma clinicians and researchers that aims to provide support and advocacy for greater leadership of women in lymphoma research.  Believing that “where there’s a WiL there’s a way.” WiL is committed to translating the hopes and aspirations of its membership to real and meaningful leading contributions to lymphoma research, teaching and patient care globally. Snowdome is incredibly proud to support WiL.

Included in the evening was the opportunity to hear from Jackie Haintz, and why her family funded a joint fellowship with Snowdome and Maddie’s Vision.  The Gunn Family National Career Development Fellowship for Women in Haematology was established in 2018 by the Gunn Family to help encourage more women to stay in research.  Dr Belinda Guo from the University of Western Australia was the worthy recipient of the fellowship.  Belinda applied for the grant in order to help answer some of the questions that troubled her, such as why diseases occur and what causes them.  She commented, “the fellowship enables me to conduct meaningful research to improve the lives of patients with blood cancers and bone marrow failure syndromes.”  For Jackie and her family their decision to fund a fellowship was to enable a researcher to maximise their time researching rather than applying for grants.  Time wasted applying for grants is time lost to research discoveries.   In very welcome news, Jackie used this opportunity to announce that her family would continue to financially support the Fellowship.

Blood Sweat and Tears of Joy really highlighted the value of funding fellows to enable these researchers to follow their passion.  As Nelson Mandela famously said, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” How fortunate are we to enable these researchers to fulfil their passion which one day may lead to a blood cancer cure?  If you are interested in helping fund a fellow, please contact Suzie at rdm@snowdome.org.au