Honouring the profoundly tragic loss of their cherished daughter Vanessa, winemaking legends Brian and Fay McGuigan – together with the University of Newcastle – have jointly funded an unprecedented 10-year Hunter Medical Research Institute Fellowship dedicated to ovarian cancer research.
University of Newcastle bioscientist Dr Nikola Bowden is the recipient, extending previous support by the McGuigans for her study of mechanisms causing chemotherapy resistance in ovarian cancer.
Dr Bowden also has a personal connection with the disease after a teammate from Newcastle’s Oxfords Hockey Club passed away in 2012.
“Losing my friend Judy Raymond was the reason I started working on ovarian cancer four years ago, and my hockey friends have since helped to raise funds for us,” Dr Bowden said. “Now, I can’t think of a better way for the McGuigans to honour Vanessa. I am so grateful and would like to sincerely thank them for backing me.”
Vanessa McGuigan passed away in 1990, just weeks after her 21st birthday, and Mr McGuigan says his family remains deeply saddened.
“She was a great young lady and only 19 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” he said. “For 20 years we just committed ourselves to our work with such dedication that it would get the sadness out of our minds, so we didn’t have to live with it every minute. It’s still the same.
“Through the love we have for our lost daughter we wanted to ensure that everything possible could be done by the present generation to reduce the pain and suffering that other ovarian cancer patients experience.
“I believe Nikola is onto something meaningful and she expresses great enthusiasm and commitment to what she’s doing.”
Dr Bowden says the 10-year tenure will help accelerate the results of her team’s work.
“We often tread water while writing funding applications but now we can fully focus on patient outcomes,” she said. “Our end goal is better treatment options, particularly for those who relapse.
“We’re aiming to switch the mechanism that causes chemotherapy resistance in ovarian cancer so that patients will respond again. Hopefully we can also identify responsiveness much earlier.
“At the moment there’s a fine line between poisoning the patient and killing the tumour, and the side effects of chemotherapy can be horrendous, so we’d like to use those drugs in much lower dosage in combination with other therapies.”
Having exhausted the ovarian cancer samples banked in the Hunter, and most of those nationally, Dr Bowden will now collaborate with researchers in Texas to access a much larger tissue bank for the next stage of her research.
* Dr Nikola Bowden is from the University of Newcastle, researching in conjunction with HMRI’s Cancer Program.