Brain cancer researchers in Newcastle say that a six-figure funding windfall resulting from Paul Harragon’s appearance on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here will unlock new international research pathways and allow a number of pilot studies and clinical trials to proceed.
The Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF) was gifted $50,000 from AFL star Brendan Fevola, who split his winning prizemoney, while homebuilder McDonald Jones announced yesterday that it was matching the $50,000. Paul Harragon also received bonus funds during the TV program.
Professor Stephen Ackland, Chair of the Mark Hughes Foundation scientific committee and HMRI Cancer Program co-leader, said the donation would have an immediate and profound impact for brain cancer work.
“The community recognises that progress in brain tumour management is slow, that more brain cancer research is needed to improve patient outcomes more quickly, but we have a number of applications already on hand which we can now consider – $100,000 can fund anything from PhD scholarships to project consumables in genomic studies,” Professor Ackland said.
“To give an example, we’re looking at a particular study of paired gene samples from patients at their first presentation of a brain tumour and the recurrence of the disease at a later date, so we can ascertain what genes have changed in the make-up of those tumours.”
The genomics component alone would cost around $30,000, not including staffing costs.
“We can also increase our collaborations with the Sydney Neuro Oncology Group, to whom we’re closely connected, and there’s potential to work with the Cooperative Trials Group for Neuro-Oncology (COGNO) which is the national organisation for clinical trials in brain tumours.
“There are also early collaborations developing overseas looking at identifying sub-types of brain tumour based on their molecular composition – all those are potentials yet to be explored.”
Through the Hunter Medical Research Institute, the Mark Hughes Foundation has already supported several ongoing initiatives such as a Hunter-based Brain Cancer Biobank and the region’s first Care Coordination Nurse for people with brain cancer.
“They have injected not only funds but enthusiastic consumer advocate support for collecting brain tumour and blood samples from patients during their treatment pathway, with the hope that we can identify biomarkers which indicate response to treatment and resistance to treatment,” Professor Ackland added.
The three-year funding arrangement for a care coordination nurse provides a vital link between health staff, patients and medical researchers. The role involves patient support, collecting research data and also encouraging use of the biobank.
In 2015 a raft of MHF travel grants allowed researchers to attend the COGNO Annual Scientific Meeting in Brisbane, along with a number of international conference visits.
Mark Hughes, who co-founded his Foundation after being diagnosed with a brain tumour, said he was overwhelmed with the national exposure and support.
“I’m the proudest man in Australia and I can’t thank Paul Harragon enough for everything he has done,” Mr Hughes said. “We need help – I need help – and we’ll be forever grateful to the Harragon family, to Brendan Fevola and McDonald Jones Homes for the commitment they’ve shown.”
* Professor Stephen Ackland is Director of the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance, clinical oncologist at the Calvary Mater Newcastle, and conjoint professor with the University of Newcastle, researching in conjunction with HMRI’s Cancer Program. HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.