Alfred’s Team

We are extremely lucky to have such an amazing team of oncologists on our side as we navigate childhood cancer. Both Dr Diane Hanna and Professor John Heath have been recipients of The Kids’ Cancer Project‘s funding for research.

Read their stories below to learn more about their research and clinical trials.

Dr. Diane Hanna

Scientific advancements have seen an increase in survival rates for the most common form of childhood cancer but, for some kids, conventional treatment is proving unsuccessful.

Dr Diane Hanna, paediatric oncologist at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital and researcher at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, is committed to developing a novel approach to treatment that is tailored precisely to this group of children.

“We know that there’s only so much chemotherapy that we can give to a child,” said Dr Hanna. “It’s about identifying those patients that are refractory, or resistant, very early in their disease trajectory, and then using novel compounds, either as a bridge to transplant, or a bridge to other kinds of definitive therapy.”

A different perspective

Dr Hanna grew up in a family of engineers, but always knew she wanted to study medicine. One of her first rotations as a resident was in paediatric oncology and she formed a special connection with both the science and the children.

“We’re in a very exciting time where the expectation is a cure for childhood leukaemia,” said Dr Hanna. “We’re in the molecular era where we can target tumours really well and use varying molecules in combination with chemotherapy to improve outcomes.”

Dr Hanna said her clinical work makes her time in the lab more meaningful.

“It gives me a different perspective as well. I have a lot of questions from the clinic that I want to answer. In my role as a researcher, I can take them straight into the lab and then back to the clinic. There’s such a valuable interplay between the two roles. I also get to see the resilience of these kids in a clinical setting,” she said.

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Professor John Heath

“I had worked at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne for many years and was aware of the number of patients travelling from Tasmania, where clinical trials were not available,” said Professor Heath.

“It’s been well established for many years that the health outcomes for children with cancer are very closely related to the availability of, and participation in, clinical trials. Those two factors made it clear that we needed to bring Tasmania into that clinical trial space,” he said.

Also beyond dispute, Professor Heath stated, is the fact that the best outcomes for seriously ill children occur when they are able to be treated locally and experience as little disruption to their lives as possible.

“You’re not just dealing with the treatment, you’re dealing with siblings and parents and friends,” Professor Heath said. “The ability to not have to travel is a big factor, because it means they can still attend school, they can sleep in their own bed, they can enjoy their usual support networks. Then, from a financial point of view, it means the parents can often continue to work in some capacity and not have to spend a great deal of money on travel and accommodation and eating out, etc.”

In the two years since the Clinical Trials Unit has been established in Hobart, over 100 children have participated in clinical studies and five have had treatment included as part of that study.

But it’s not just about the children. The Unit also benefits the local medical community in terms of knowledge, exposure to leading research from around the globe and participation in broader national and international trials.

“The other part of it, which is not part of the clinical trials but is a corollary of it and has been, to a large extent, funded by The Kids’ Cancer Project, is that it has allowed us to participate on the national stage,” Professor Heath said.

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