PASSIONATE cancer researcher Annette Lim thinks her team could eventually save patients from unnecessary chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
The medical oncologist from Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital recently received a share of $933,000 from the Health Department and the Raine Medical Research Foundation for a study into the spread of tumours in head and neck cancers.
“Our team involves head and neck surgeons, plastic surgeons, radiologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, speech therapists, dietitians, nursing staff, oral health specialists, dentists, palliative care specialists, radiologists and that’s just the clinical side,” Dr Lim said. “This research importantly also involves expert scientists in the laboratory; that’s how many people are needed to look after one person on their cancer journey if they have head and neck cancer.”
Dr Lim said the two main areas of research involved examination of exosomes and the role of the immune system in controlling cancer.
“Exosomes are fragments of cancer that can be detected in the blood and they can affect how the immune system fights cancer cells and understanding these could help to determine an individualised, optimal cancer treatment plan,” she said.
Dr Lim said their hypothesis was that cancer fragments in the bloodstream were important to driving the way cancer spreads and a larger study would give them a chance to confirm that.
“One day, if we can design a drug that stops cancer spreading, we may be able to cure patients or save them needing extra treatment and this would revolutionise cancer care,” she said.
Dr Lim said a realistic outcome of their research would be to save people from needing extra chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
“If we know from a molecular perspective that people don’t need it because we have learnt how to identify a cancer that is not as aggressive or that the immune system is going to kick in, fantastic,” she said.
“This could make a difference to so many people’s lives around the world and hopefully not just for patients with head and neck cancer but all types of cancer.”