One year into the Jill Emberson PhD Scholarship: discovering new treatment options and improving outcomes

Feb 23 2022

It’s been almost a year since Bayley Mathews was awarded the Jill Emberson Pink meets Teal PhD Scholarship.

Like thousands of others, Bayley had watched in awe as the ABC Broadcaster fought a four-year battle against ovarian cancer, all the while raising funds and awareness for the disease that would claim her life in December 2019.

At her vibrant memorial service at Newcastle City Hall, it was announced that funds raised in memory of Jill would be used to establish the Jill Emberson PhD Scholarship.

The student would work alongside HMRI’s Associate Professor Nikola Bowden’s ‘Centre for Drug Repurposing and Medicines Research’ team.

It’s hoped that the projects and scholarship will develop the next generation of ovarian cancer researchers and identify treatments and improve outcomes for women who get ovarian cancer.

On Teal Ribbon Day, Bayley reflects on the first year of his three-year scholarship.

“So far my PhD has centred on discovering new treatment options for women with treatment-resistant, high grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSOC),” Bayley states. “This is the most common and most deadly subtype of ovarian cancer.”

While most research into new cancer therapies focus on creating brand-new treatments that target cancer, Bayley is testing existing drugs that are treating other diseases to if they can also be used to treat HGSOC.

“This process is called ‘drug repurposing’,” Bayley explains. “It allows for drugs to be tested and approved for use as treatment against ovarian cancer in a timelier and cost-efficient way than the typical drug research pathway.”

Bayley first became interested in medical research during his undergraduate degree.

“I’d always enjoyed learning about science and the human body during school, so I decided to study a Bachelor of Biomedical Science at the University of Newcastle.”

After finishing his Honours year in a cancer research lab, Bayley sought to continue his research into cancer and successfully applied for the Jill Emberson Scholarship PhD.

“Since I’ve started my PhD last April with the HMRI team, I’ve been looking into an antiviral drug which may work in a similar way to another type of cancer drug. The project has been a great opportunity to explore potential treatments for women with ovarian cancer. It’s also allowed me to gain more experience in the lab and do research myself.”

Of course, starting a PhD in a pandemic hasn’t always been a walk in the park.

“COVID restrictions have meant that I’ve been mostly working from home since June last year, and lockdowns have meant that I couldn’t come into the HMRI building to conduct any experiments for three months!” he exclaims.

While this meant Bayley couldn’t get involved in the lab-work he loves, it did mean he had time to undertake background research into ovarian cancer and the drugs that he’d be working with in the future. He’s also grateful for having the support of a great team.

“Since my first day, the HMRI team has been so friendly and welcoming. All my supervisors – Professor Nikola Bowden, Dr. Michelle Wong-Brown, and Associate Professor Paul Tooney – have been extremely helpful and supportive of me throughout my project.”

“I’ve really enjoyed the first year of my PhD project with this team and being able to continue Jill’s legacy.”

Bayley concludes, “It’s a project that has given me a great opportunity to explore potential treatments for women with ovarian cancer while allowing me to get more experience in the lab and undertake the research myself.”

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