Radiation Therapy students shine in the name of cancer research

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Two exceptional University of Newcastle (UON) Radiation Therapy students have been awarded a place in the Crestani Research Program, in memory of the late Chris Crestani, former chief Radiation Therapist at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney.

Graduating students Katie Sadler and Jack Bowman will receive funds to complete a year-long project at the Central Coast Cancer Centre, under the co-supervision of the Centre’s chief radiation therapist, Adam Chandler and UON’s Dr Yolanda Surjan.

The Crestani Research Program supports young Radiation Therapists to further their experience working in research projects in the field. Presented by Yvonne Crestani of Wamberal, the award honours her husband Chris Crestani, who devoted his career to treating cancer patients before succumbing to the disease himself aged 70.

Crestani award winners

Dr Yolanda Surjan, Belinda Crestani (daughter), Jack Bowman, Yvonne Crestani (wife), Katie Sadler, Amy Keegan (granddaughter), Lino Crestani (brother), Jade Searant (RT lecturer) and Debra Lee (RT lecturer)

UON caught up with the successful recipients to find out about their work and hopes for the future:

  1. What sparked your passion for Radiation Therapy?

    JB: I was initially drawn to RT because of the blend of patient centred care and highly advanced and technologically challenging environments. One on one time spent with people and building a rapport is very important to me so as a career choice I could see myself doing this for a long time.

    KS: It was during my time off after high school that I really looked into radiotherapy, and I was fascinated by it. Like most people, I’ve had close family and friends touched by cancer. The first time I heard of this form of cancer treatment was in 2007 when my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer and as part of her treatment, she received 6 weeks of radiotherapy treatment. My passion for radiotherapy came after my first clinical placement in 2015 when I was able to see first-hand how a radiation therapist is involved in creating a personalised plan to treat patients to achieve the best outcomes together with the multidisciplinary team. The care that is taken to ensure the wellbeing of patients over weeks at a time during their treatment and the relationships you develop with them is a very rewarding and humbling experience. Paired with the patient centred aspect of radiotherapy is the sophisticated technology and constant innovation and research to improve our practice that has been the driving force behind my desire to learn and pursuit of research opportunities such as the Crestani Program.

  2. How were you nominated for the Crestani Award?

    JB: I was nominated for the Crestani award after applying through the university and being selected based on GPA requirements and an expression of interest. I was aware of Mrs Crestani’s fantastic work in the field and in the community.

    KS: This is the first year that the Crestani Radiotherapy Research Program has been offered to undergraduate students for the opportunity to be involved as a research assistant under Yolanda Surjan working with the CCCC department. I was nominated for the Award based on my expression of interest for the position, and my desire to contribute to the research at my local cancer therapy centre. I have been fortunate enough to have exposure to quality assurance processes for clinical research trials at TROG Cancer Research (Newcastle) earlier this year under a 6 month scholarship provided by TROG that has been a great starting point to learn about cancer research and clinical trials.

  3. Can you explain what’s involved in the award and what your research work will be focused on?

    JB: The award itself is an excellent career opportunity. I will be getting exciting opportunities to work as a research assistant within the central coast cancer centres current research efforts and working closely with Dr Yolanda Surjan and Adam Chandler and the staff at the Central Coast Cancer Centre.

    KS: The methods used to treat prostate cancer patients have significantly progressed over the years to provide better outcomes for patients with earlier detection with improved survival rates. However, there is a desire to further improve the level of precision and accuracy when delivering radiotherapy for prostate patients to ensure both the destruction of cancer cells, and sparing of nearby healthy tissue that can be damaged in the process. The area of research I will be focusing on will look at an adaptive planning strategy to optimise the delivery of radiotherapy for post-prostatectomy patients who often experience adverse treatment related side effects from inherent motion of the target volume and adjacent bladder and rectum during treatment.

    The hypothesis I will be involved in testing proposes that by improving the localisation of the tumour, and accounting for movement of the tumour during treatment, a tighter dose distribution can be achieved around the target leading to greater sparing of nearby healthy tissue. For post-prostatectomy patients in particular, the location of the target sits between the bladder and rectum and can lead to radiation exposure causing incontinence, and further impacting patient’s quality of life.

  4. How do you hope the award will give you an edge after you graduate?

    JB: This award can potentially open doors for me looking at research in the future. I am purely focused on making an impact and positively effecting as many lives as possible in the field of RT. I believe research to have the potential for large scale impact and I will very keenly observe and absorb all I can from the experience.

    KS: This is a fantastic opportunity for me to develop research based skills while contributing to my local cancer therapy centre to further benefit patients in my community.  As a starting point, I hope to gain from this opportunity the skills to be involved in more research projects and improve the way radiotherapy is delivered to patients.

  5. What are your hopes for your career moving forward?

JB: I would like to become as involved with all things RT upon graduating. I will primarily be looking at absorbing as much as possible from my first year in the industry and seeing where it takes me. I am already excited by the prospect of postgraduate study and mainly hope to continue to develop and gain experience.

KS: I have recently completed my final year of study and have been successful in my application for the position of a Level 1 Radiation Therapist at the Central Coast Cancer Centre under the Supervised Practice Program (SPP) for 2018. I hope to continue this line of research or a similar project as part of my continuing professional development and look forward to developing my clinical skills as a radiation therapist at CCCC next year.

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.