As a Clinical Trial Coordinator at The University of Queensland's Dermatology Research Centre (DRC), Kaitlin Nufer knows ongoing funding, such as the support the DRC receives from the PA Research Foundation, is vital to the success of their research.
In her role as a Clinical Trial Coordinator, Ms Nufer works across a range of projects including analyzing data from the recently completed Mind Your Moles study, coordinating and imaging participants in the HOPs study and working with a new imaging device, the VECTRA 360WB Whole Body 3D Imaging System, which tracks changes in moles and skin lesions over time and allows clinicians to review the skin surface of the whole body – all projects that work towards the DRC's goal of creating a world without melanoma.
Kaitlin Nufer, Clinical Trial Coordinator at The University of Queensland's DRC
"We've just finished one of our long term studies, the Mind Your Moles study, which went for three years. We're now starting to review and analyze all the data and images from over 200 participants who underwent total body imaging at the Clinical Research Facility at the Princess Alexandra Hospital," Ms Nufer said.
"With the VECTRA Imaging System, one of our research goals is to establish an algorithm for artificial intelligence to recognize change that's happening within a lesion. To do that we have to teach the software what change looks like and develop that algorithm to essentially look for change and how to characterise that change."
Keeping Kaitlin and her colleagues busy at present is processing 15,000 dermoscopy images one by one, checking for change, identifying change and the type of changes. Though time-consuming work, the team is confident it will lead to more advances in their field and positive outcomes for patients.
Importantly for Ms Nufer and the team at the DRC, the work they are doing to reduce melanoma rates is applicable and accessible to people in both rural and regional areas, not just in the big cities.
"It's all about that early detection of melanoma but it's also about creating awareness of changes in the individuals' skin.
"One of the aims of our Mind Your Moles Study (a study taken from the electoral roll) was to educate the general public about how to look for changes in their skin, detect changes in their moles using the ABCDE rule, how to do a skin check on themselves and just to become a lot more self-aware and a lot more educated on good sun behavior practices" Ms Nufer said.
"It's about educating the general public, so they take preventative measures like putting on sunscreen, seeking shade and wearing a hat, so hopefully they are reducing that prolonged or intermittent sun exposure and not developing skin cancer; just simple steps we can all practise to reduce our skin cancer risk."
The team at the DRC believe education of the general public around melanoma and skin cancer prevention and early detection is key to improved patient treatment outcomes and survival rates, as when detected earlier, melanomas are more likely to be thinner and not yet as advanced through the deeper layers of the skin.
"It's also about making this kind of technology that we have with the VECTRA more accessible for people that are located out west and in harder to reach communities such as Mt Isa."
The Vectra 360WB Whole Body 3D Imaging System
"Our research alongside utilising devices, such as 3D total body imaging, has really helped to open the door further and expand the opportunities for telehealth and teledermatology. We hope that with this technology, in the near future, people who live in the country have the same level of access and care for their medical concerns as someone living in the city," Ms Nufer said.
If the DRC was to be guaranteed ongoing funding, Ms Nufer believes the team and the projects they're working on could improve patient care, patient education, reduce health system costs, save thousands of lives, and hopefully reduce Australia's skin cancer and melanoma burden.
"What we're doing at the moment, the world is watching us in some regards, because we are the first research group that is setting up multisite 3D total body imaging machines across regional and city-based centres and integrating these systems into a clinical setting."
If she had a chance to meet with a PA Research Foundation donor, Ms Nufer says she would impress upon them just how valuable their support is.
"I would say thank you to the PA Foundation donors. Without donations like these, the work we do wouldn't always be possible or it would progress at a much slower rate, so we always say a massive thank you to donors."
Donate to support the University of Queensland's Dermatology Research Centre's melanoma research here.