Student-led Exploration of Developments in Cancer at VCCC

By Nicolas Soputro, second year medical student

The second episode of ‘Re-Translate Symposia in Translational Science’ brought a keen audience of past and present medical students to the newly opened Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC) to explore the latest developments in cancer prevention and treatment. The success of this year’s symposium builds on that of the inaugural student-led symposium on neuroscience.

The Re-Translate series is an initiative of the Melbourne Medical School Student Ambassadors. The students aim to celebrate four key research themes of Melbourne Medical School – namely neuroscience, cancer, microbiology and immunology, and paediatrics – and to bring together past and present students around the translation into practice of groundbreaking research.

Choosing cancer as the topic for the second episode of the symposia was prompted by the recent opening of the new Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre (VCCC). The VCCC cements Parkville’s position on the map as one of the primary hubs for medical research and clinical care in Australia. The Melbourne Medical School is fortunate to be part of this precinct and for our partnerships across the precinct to contribute to learning, teaching, research and impact.

It is challenging to produce an event for students and alumni that is both accessible and intellectually stimulating to all of the audience.The rich history and vibrant community of the Melbourne Medical School means our students, staff and alumni have diverse backgrounds, expertise, and experience in medicine. We were very fortunate this year to have Professor Sean Grimmond, the Director of Cancer Research at The University of Melbourne, assist the Medical School Student Ambassadors rise to the challenge of planning an event that would hold interest for the many members of the medical school community.

Together with Professor Grimmond, Yeung-Ae Park led a team of fellow Student Ambassadors in planning the program and inviting  four clinical researchers to explain the frontiers of personalised treatment of cancer. All innovators in their field, the researchers shared their passions and invited us into the fascinating world of cancer research. They walked us through the thought processes and collaborations behind the breakthroughs we  see in cancer prevention and treatment today.

Professor Ingrid Winship opened the night by outlining the importance of personalised medicine for prevention of cancers and sketching the future of this field. This was followed by Professor Andrew Robert’s story of his team’s ground-breaking use of the Bcl-2 gene in treatment of haematological malignancies. Associate Professor Clare Scott described her application of patient-derived xenographs to set therapeutic targets for ovarian tumours, which may also be applied to other malignancies in the future. Professor Grant McArthur closed the night by highlighting the use of genome sequencing for directed therapy in melanoma.

Together, students and clinician-researchers created an event that not only enticed diverse members of the medical community into the room, but stimulated questions and conversations that flowed from the auditorium out to the foyer, where the participating alumni, staff and students continued to discuss developments over drinks and canapes.

The night was not only a great success in terms of the knowledge shared, but also because it brought together a diverse group of alumni and medical students and strengthened the bond that we all have as part of the Melbourne Medical School community.