MISTY Jenkins and her team have, put simply, been able to kill paediatric brain cancer in a dish.
The cancer immunologist, who grew up in Ballarat, does not want to project false hope but this is an important step in tackling a disease for which survival rates have not changed in 30 years.
Dr Jenkins returns to Ballarat next Friday to talk immunotherapy for the Albert Coates Memorial Trust Luncheon. Her focus as a leading researcher at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research is in better understanding how the body's white blood cells can recognise invaders, like cancer cells, and kill them while leaving healthy cells alone.
In particular, Dr Jenkins is investigating how killer cells in the immune system could be modified for a new treatment to childhood brain cancer.
A grant from Carrie's Beanies 4 Brain Cancer Foundation has helped drive the project, which has also received federal funding from Cancer Australia and National Health and Medical Research Council.
The next step, is to try and replicate the in-roads they have made on clinical models.
"Brain cancer research had such a lack of funding that no progress was made for a decade but we're starting to see a real groundswell in changing this thanks to patient advocates and their families," Dr Jenkins said.
"That means now we can afford more people to research brain cancer now...There is also a sense of community, which is so important, for example everyone who buys a beanie is supporting the cause. While $25 might not seem like much, for every beanie sold that adds up and there's real power in making a difference."
Brain cancer kills more Australian children than any other disease and kills more people aged under 40 than any other cancer.
Developing and testing new treatments is time consuming and expensive. There is no single cure for cancer as cancer is thousands of different diseases but Dr Jenkins said each step in progress made is an extra piece in the puzzle.
The Mount Clear College graduate is also passionate about encouraging cultural change when it comes to promoting gender and race equality in her industry and wider society.
Dr Jenkins is both a proud Gunditjmara descendant and female leader in scientific research. She said cultural chance is a challenging, "slow-moving beast". A key, Dr Jenkins said was it needed to be seen to be believed: children seeing mum and dad equally sharing housework; or, children finding indigenous role models in doctors or scientists.
The Albert Coates Memorial Trust is at Ballarat Golf Club on Friday May 3. To book, phone: 0434 540 171.
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