Advancements in melanoma research changing the game
HAWTHORN football club captain Jarryd Roughead is a walking advertisement for the success of medical research.
In 2015 he was diagnosed with a melanoma on his lip. The following year the cancer had spread to his lungs.
Due to improvements in diagnosis and developments in treatments that help the immune system recognise and attack cancer cells, Jarryd is back playing the 2018 season.
Only 17 years earlier, a very promising 21-year-old West Australian golfer, Scott Kirkbride, was also diagnosed with melanoma. His cancer also spread but tragically Scott didn’t survive.
The contrast between the fates of these two young sportsmen is stark. The different outcome reflects where medical research and drug development were up to when they were diagnosed.
Big changes have occurred in the management of melanoma. Immune therapy and the introduction of targeted treatment, based on the presence of a particular gene mutation that occurs in about 40% of melanomas, account for the different outlook for the two young men.
Scott Kirkbride wanted his case to make a difference. After his death, his family and WA’s current Chief Scientist, Professor Peter Klinken, established the Scott Kirkbride Melanoma Research Centre to support melanoma research at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research.
Ongoing fundraising efforts by Scott’s family and friends, riders in the annual MACA Ride to Conquer Cancer and other generous donors support melanoma research at the Perkins, in Scott’s name.
That research centre has now combined with the state’s existing melanoma advisory service to form the WA Kirkbride Melanoma Advisory Service (WAKMAS), the leading personalised service for melanoma patients in WA, which is located at the Perkins.
WAKMAS delivers expert patient care informed by the latest in research and linked to clinical trials of new treatments.
Information and advice is given to patients and their doctors by a panel of experts including pathologists with expertise in reviewing skin pathology, dermatologists, plastic surgeons, a general surgeon, and medical and radiation oncologists.
Nuclear physicians attend the team meetings to provide advice on scans. In short, the clinicians at WAKMAS, led by melanoma expert and plastic surgeon Mark Hanikeri, are melanoma specialists in our public and private health sector.
WAKMAS also provides GP education on melanoma because, unlike other cancers which are often diagnosed and treated in the tertiary health system, melanoma is more commonly diagnosed by GPs.
About 250 patients a year receive treatment plans for their particular melanoma condition and all this is a free service supported by the Health Department.
At the Perkins, cancer research continues. We have raised funds for a melanoma medical oncologist and aim to appoint a Melanoma Research Chair to work within the Perkins and WAKMAS.
Only further research will add to the significant advances achieved by the revolutionary immunotherapy that was used to treat Jarryd Roughead.
In this way, Scott Kirkbride’s legacy lives on.