Generous community donations lead to breakthroughs in cancer drug research

UOW’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Health) Professor Don Iverson recently hosted a morning tea to highlight a successful research partnership in cancer drug research in recognition of the Robert East Memorial Fund.

Family of the late Robert East, a prominent and respected member of the Kiama community, set up the memorial fund to raise money for drug research. Robert’s family and friends, and a number of community organisations including Kiama Council and Kiama Rotary Club, continue to raise money for the fund in his memory. Over $100,000 has been raised since 2006.

“The fund means that there is hope that other people won’t have to go through what we saw Robert go through,” Robert’s wife, Judith said.

At the morning tea, Professor Iverson explained to community members how the money from community donations is being spent. UOW researcher Professor Marie Ranson and Robert East’s oncologist, Professor Phil Clingan also spoke about their research partnership.

Professor Ranson and Professor Clingan lead the large multidisciplinary team of chemists and biologists at UOW’s Cancer Drug Research Group. The team has been working together for the last five years to reduce the debilitating side-effects of drugs used in chemotherapy, to reduce the pain involved with treatment and improve survival rates.

Professor Clingan said that cancer survival rates have gone up 30% in his lifetime, and this is due to new research and clinical trials, which is made possible through funding and donations towards research.

Professor Ranson said the funding from the Robert East Memorial has been instrumental in helping the research to progress to a stage where it can now be tested.

“Essentially, after only five or six years of research, we are now ready to trial this drug in humans,” she said. “Funding from the community has helped the research move so quickly; this philanthropy has really kept us going.”

Professor Iverson said he hopes the success of this research partnership will encourage more doctors in the Illawarra to engage with the University.

“The money from the East family has not only caused advances in cancer research, it also shows how clinicians and scientists can come together with the help of funding.”

At the morning tea, the East family was presented with a plaque of the first research paper that the Cancer Drug Research Group has had published in an international medical journal.

“We hope you take this as a token of our gratitude to you – because you made the research possible,” Professor Ranson said. “And we hope there will be many more research papers to come.”