Translating research into better health care
Professor Andrew Scott AM has dedicated his career to translating advances in molecular imaging research and targeted therapies into better care for cancer patients.
Professor Scott, who is Director of Molecular Imaging and Therapy and Austin Health and Head of the Tumour Targeting Laboratory at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute balances multiple roles as a clinician and researcher.
In addition to his work caring for patients, and leading a research lab, he also leads clinical trials and is involved in numerous collaborations which aim to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment across the health system.
This includes his role as Chair of MACH’s Molecular Imaging Committee, which aims to support to increase capability and capacity of medical imaging for research.
“Research enables you to make a substantial difference,’’ says Professor Scott. “When clinicians work closely with other scientists, they are able to generate the evidence needed to get new therapies approved and benefit more patients.’’
Professor Scott’s research in molecular imaging plays a critical role in supporting the delivery of more personalised cancer treatments for patients.
His team develops novel PET imaging probes for oncology which enable more accurate staging and restaging of cancer.
This novel technology also allows clinicians to test potential new therapies and determine how they should be optimally delivered.
With an increasing focus on immunotherapy, PET imaging can also help clinicians identify the best therapies for an individual patient by tracking drugs and immune cells and see how they are responding to treatment.
Early in his career, Professor Scott spent three years in New York at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre working with eminent immunologist the late Dr Lloyd Old, and world-renowned clinician Dr Steven Larson. This created an opportunity for him to return to Australia and establish a research program in antibody therapeutics and imaging at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, in a role that combined basic and clinical research.
This opportunity was funded by philanthropy – and cemented Professor Scott’s role as a clinician-scientist.
However, he says that many bright young clinicians do not get those opportunities – and are unable to continue clinical research which could bring many benefits to the health system.
“The tragedy is that so many talented young researchers come out of doing a PhD and then there is a big valley between that and being able to develop the track record needed to get a Fellowship to continue their research,’’ he says.
Powering the MRFF
Head of the Melbourne Academic Centre for Health Professor Sir John Savill says around $65 million per year – or about 10 per cent of the Medical Research Future Fund’s investment income – is needed to support Australia’s clinician-scientists to translate research into practice.
Professor Savill, along with colleagues Professor Christopher Levi and Professor Gary Geelhoed, have called for an increase in funding for clinician researcher-translators to ensure that the many research projects funded by the MRFF result in positive change across the health system.
Writing in the Medical Journal of Australia they argue that that overseas governments invest heavily in such roles – funding time for frontline clinical staff to deliver research and translation alongside their clinical work.
They point to the United Kingdom where about $20 per citizen per year is spent on clinician research-translators (also known as “research translators”) resulting in ‘an impressive impact on lives saved, jobs created, and industry invigorated’.
“We want to see that research and translation-trained practitioners in medicine, nursing, allied health disciplines, clinical laboratories, pharmacy, health informatics and other frontline services have time stably funded to deploy their skills in a role we would describe as ‘research translators’.
“Alongside conventional health care duties, such staff will have dedicated time to engage consumers, recruit participants to clinical research, partner with industry, prove the relevance of research to their service, promote best evidenced practice and champion the adoption of innovation.’’
Read the letter to the Medical Journal of Australia Research translators powering MRFF to save lives and create jobs