Fellowship to optimise brain cancer therapies

Dec 5 2017

Anne Callander hugs Dr Kelly McKelvey during her Fellowship presentation

A medical research Fellowship honouring the late Matt Callander, an esteemed Nine Network sports producer, is helping Sydney neuroscientist Dr Kelly McKelvey to study and optimise clinical treatment options for brain cancer patients.

Her three-year funding support came via the NRL’s Round 11 Beanie for Brain Cancer initiative in partnership with the Mark Hughes Foundation (MHF). It was presented at the recent Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) Awards Night by Anne Callander and eldest daughter Madison.

Dr McKelvey is an immunology specialist with a background in neuroanatomy and pharmacology, enabling her to analyse the brain microenvironment in depth. Along with colleagues from the Sydney Neuro-Oncology Group and in collaboration with Hunter cancer researchers, she is specifically focused on high-grade brain cancers – including glioblastoma, which tragically claimed Matt’s life in late October.

“We’re generating different brain cancer models in the laboratory to look at how both the tumour and healthy tissue respond to the existing treatments we have – neurosurgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and also the emerging targeted immunotherapies,” Dr McKelvey said.

“We study them individually and in combination to answer some of the long-standing questions about what are the best options for patients moving forward. The immediate aim is to develop better strategies.

“At the same time, we’ll be exploring some new regimes, particularly around radiotherapy combined with the new immunotherapies, to ensure we can give people a longer life and a better quality of life.”

Dr McKelvey says her personal and professional life have been marked by friends and loved ones succumbing to the disease.

“What really resonated is that we’re risking a ‘cure’, or at least extra time that brain cancer patients can spend with their families,” she added. “I’d love to be able to say, ‘here’s a more effective treatment strategy with minimal ongoing nausea and fatigue issues, so you can have more quality time over a number of years’.”

With the NRL’s and Callanders’ support, the MHF Beanie for Brain Cancer campaign surpassed all expectations in 2017, allowing immediate funding of the inaugural Fellowship.

“Matt and his family drove the whole Beanie for Brain Cancer round like I’ve never seen. From the media to the NRL clubs, everyone came together as one and we sold over 110,000 beanies,” Mark Hughes said.

“Matt was in the depths of his own sickness but not once did he or Anne complain. They wanted to make a difference, and it was a game-changer for the Mark Hughes Foundation – it put us on the national map and I’m so grateful for what they did in such tough circumstances.

“The Matt Callander Beanie For Brain Cancer Fellowship not only honours a great man, and a great sport, it’s a tribute to all those across Australia who bought a Beanie.”

Mark adds: “I think Kelly is a wonderful recipient. Our long-term goal is to see cures for brain cancer but right now it’s important that Kelly can help give patients that extra time and quality of life.”

Dr McKelvey had an emotional bedside meeting with the Callander family shortly before Matt’s passing: “I felt anxious until Anne met me at the door with a big hug. As a scientific researcher we don’t get a lot of direct contact with patients, but this has motivated me incredibly,” she said.

“The Fellowship allows me to focus all my energies on the research over the next three years, rather than applying for grants and worrying about salary stability. Ultimately it will help bring the results to patients even faster.”

The Mark Hughes Foundation has also directly funded a three-year HMRI Mid-Career Research Fellowship for radiation oncologist Dr Mike Fay, a clinical expert in advanced imaging for brain tumours. Dr Fay is developing scanning markers and targeted therapies for cancer cells that resist current treatments.

The Mark Hughes Foundation website is www.markhughesfoundation.com.au.