WHAT drives Nuzhat Ahmed’s research is a quest to reduce suffering, improving quality of life and unravelling the complexities of ovarian cancer.
Dr Ahmed has settled in as the principal research fellow for Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute’s ovarian cancer project. It is a role she has developed since May.
She wants to understand how ovarian cancer patients become resistant to chemotherapy and identify the molecules that can be used with chemotherapy to eradicate the resistant disease.
It is very important to work on ovarian cancer because it really is a silent killer...there has been little awareness of itDr Nuzhat Ahmed
“In my mind, this is the new approach we’re going to take, using lower doses of chemotherapy with other treatment, compared to the big doses of chemotherapy we have given patients in the past,” Dr Ahmed said.
“Chemotherapy damages the immune system and the immune system is also very important to fighting cancer.”
Dr Ahmed said too often, ovarian cancer patients relapsed after completing chemotherapy and life expectancy was reduced.
Part of this was due to the nature of ovarian cancer, symptoms that tended to be overlooked by patients and doctors until the cancer was too advanced.
A background in cell biology has Dr Ahmed intrigued in how to tackle all this.
Ovarian cancer awareness is improving, but Dr Ahmed said the amount of research and understanding in the disease paled in comparison to breast cancer research and support.
“It is very important to work on ovarian cancer because it really is a silent killer...there has been little awareness of it,” Dr Ahmed said.
Joining FECRI offers Dr Ahmed a chance to really explore ovarian cancer from a new angle. She first earned her PhD studying leukaemia and developed a keen interest in women’s health which she has pursued, and continues to pursue, in ongoing ties with Melbourne and Monash universities and The Royal Women’s Hospital.
Any cancer can be complicated, Dr Ahmed said, and it was a matter of balancing the right amount of treatment to reduce overactive cells without affecting normal cells’ function.
Gradual understanding such processes is creating better cancer management.
Dr Ahmed still urges every woman to know her body and when something may not feel right.