What are your research interests?
I’m particularly passionate about anticancer drug pharmacology and its variation – why do certain patients get benefit and others do not? Why do some patients get side-effects and others do not? We are measuring the blood concentration of some anticancer drugs and their metabolites in treated cancer patients (with adrenal cancer, brain tumours, bowel cancer and others).
How can we better deliver drugs to each cancer patient to allow for their different absorption and metabolism, so the drug has the best possible chance of working? Based on drug measurement, we are developing strategies to provide the optimal drug concentration in each patient.
What influence does the genomic profile of a patient have on the effects (beneficial and side effects) of a particular drug? We are collecting blood samples to measure genes in patients with unusual or extreme side effects from anticancer drugs and comparing the gene profile with patients that do not have such toxicity.
In our lab at the Calvary Mater we are also developing some promising new drugs with novel mechanisms of action for the treatment of cancer. We need to confirm the mechanism of action, work out how to measure these agents and what standard drugs they can be combined with; then we will be able to start studies in laboratory models.
I'm also passionate about the value of clinical trials – how can we best incorporate new therapies into existing, partially effective treatments? Can we measure the concentration of new drugs in patients' blood and suggest ways to improve drug delivery?
Why did you get into research?
My father died of colon cancer at age 51. He had a short illness and at the time the treatment options were very limited compared to now, where we have multidisciplinary treatments derived from research studies that significantly increase the probability of cure and extend survival.
Professionally, I followed a series of mentors and supervisors who spurred me towards haematology and the management of solid tumors. From here I got involved in laboratory research and clinical trials.
I could see that if we didn’t keep improving our knowledge by asking questions, if we didn’t keep thinking about why things are not perfect in our world, then we’re not going to make progress in the management of human cancer. I get satisfaction out of asking those questions and contributing to progress in the development of new treatment strategies.
What would be the ultimate goal for your research?
My vision is a world where every cancer patient's life is made better and longer as a consequence of personalised therapy - treatment specifically tailored to each patient's make-up as well as the make-up of their particular cancer. Each cancer is unique. Each individual cancer is a consequence of molecular changes that cause malignancy, make it grow abnormally and spread. By studying in detail these changes, working out which ones are driving the cancer, and linking that information to well-designed targeted treatments, we should achieve this aim. It will require a concerted collaborative effort by researchers and clinicians throughout the world.
Professor Stephen Ackland is a distinguished cancer researcher in the Hunter Region. He is a Senior Staff Specialist for Medical Oncology at the Calvary Mater Hospital in Newcastle, the Area Director of Clinical Cancer Research for Hunter New England Health, a Professor in the Faculty of Health at the University of Newcastle, Director of the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance and Co-Director of the HMRI Cancer Research Program.
For almost 30 years, Professor Ackland has researched the pharmacology of various anticancer drugs and how they work in the body. He has pioneered the safe and effective use of many chemotherapy drugs both in isolation and in combination with each other. He has also been the lead on a number of clinical trials and interventions seeking to improve the treatment of a number of different types of cancer and has optimised the use of anticancer drugs already in therapeutic use.
Professor Ackland is a world authority on cancer pharmacology and chemotherapy pharmacokinetics. He is the current Editor-in-Chief for the Asia-Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology and has himself published more than 100 peer-reviewed original research articles. Among many prestigious awards and tenures throughout his career, Professor Ackland has been a Director for the NSW Cancer Council for 8 years and is the current board chair for the Australian & New Zealand Breast Cancer Trials Group.
- Practicing medical oncologist with special interest in gastrointestinal cancer (stromal tumours, esophagus, stomach, pancreas colon and rectum, etc), head and neck cancer, gliomas.
- Knowledge and experience in anticancer drug pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, and pharmacogenomics. Also new drug development
- Knowledge and experience in clinical trials design, management, analysis and reporting, both large-scale and small.
- Journal editorship and publishing
- Company directorship
- Hunter Cancer Research Alliance
- Cancer Institute NSW
- Dept of Pharmacology and Medical Oncology, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam.
- ASCO, AACR, ESMO