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Newton’s theory of motion

11/07/2019 - 10:22


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Research into the role exercise can play in helping cancer patients has Rob Newton in the running for a gong at the 2019 Premier’s Science Awards, the finalists for which were announced last month.

Rob Newton began researching the use of exercise in cancer treatment after his father’s death.

Research into the role exercise can play in helping cancer patients has Rob Newton in the running for a gong at the 2019 Premier’s Science Awards, the finalists for which were announced last month.

A contender for the 2018 awards, Professor Newton will come up against genome scientist Ryan Lister, haematologist Wendy Erber and planetary scientist Phil Bland when the winner is announced on August 13.

Professor Newton told Business News the $50,000 prize award would bring greater attention to researchers in Western Australia.

“We’re competing with larger and better-funded researchers on the east coast, and it’s difficult in WA to compete with that,” he said.

“I think an award like this will give us more recognition and more of an ability to attract funding.”

Professor Newton has spent the past 16 years researching the use of exercise as a treatment for cancer patients, and has opened six exercise clinics in WA.

Having published hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific articles, Professor Newton has attracted more than $35 million in competitive research funding throughout his career, which has primarily gone towards trialling exercise programs for those suffering from prostate and brain cancer.

With a background in exercise science, his interest in integrating exercise with cancer treatment began when he was interviewed for his position at Edith Cowan University in 2003.

Director of a biomechanics laboratory at Ball State University in the US at that time, Professor Newton said he was asked during the interview about his possible research directions.

“I had been working predominantly in elite sports performance, and my father had recently passed away from [complications arising from] prostate cancer,” he said.

“I lost my uncle to it, too, and I wanted to explore exercise sports medicine with cancer patients.”

Learning about the specialised effects that different exercises have, Professor Newton helped author world-first guidelines for exercise in cancer management in 2009, with guidelines in the US rolled out the following year.

“It was a new initiative for WA as well as one of the first exercise cancer supportive care programs in the world,” he said.

“Back in 2009, the recommendation for people with cancer was that they should rest.

“That was my observation with my father and uncle … and I saw them gradually decline.

“For my father, it meant he died of a stroke two years after diagnosis.

“I wondered what would have happened if he were treated differently.”

Professor Newton said the guidelines he helped write rejected the recommendation that cancer patients increase sedentary behaviour, instead encouraging them to perform general (as well as targeted aerobic) weight and cardiovascular exercise.

“We saw incredible benefits, like an improvement to quality of life particularly,” he said.

“What we’re now doing is drilling down the specifics, because not all exercise medicine works the same way for different cancers.”

While Professor Newton said exercise would be beneficial to patients, he also acknowledged the need for them to consider their own financial, family and work situations.

“Cancer is more than 100 different types of diseases and there are thousands of different treatments, not to mention that every patient has a different age, background and genetics,” he said.

“You want to prescribe a program that takes the shortest amount of time and the greatest effect.

“We’re now targeting the treatment … working with oncologists to determine an individual’s greatest health risks, so we can design an exercise prescription that can zone in on and suppress particular problems to increase the chance of survival.”

If Professor Newton were to win the Scientist of the Year award, he said it could bring greater attention to the idea that exercise, when performed correctly, was safe and beneficial for cancer patients.

“I still give presentations to people with cancer and they’re astounded that they should be trying to do exercise,” he said.

“They are often of the belief they should rest and try to recover.

“If we can highlight the benefit of exercise medicine, then people will demand a high-quality exercise prescription and clinicians would strongly recommend to their patients that they exercise.

“I think that would be a great outcome for our state and the community.”


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