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The next generation of urological research

Tuesday 04 May 2021

Meet Mahasha, Nathan, Abby, Claire, and Alivia. Five QUT research master's students helping advance research into bladder cancer and other urological cancers including prostate cancer.

QUT Research Master's Students, Abby, Nathan, Mahasha, Alivia and Claire.

Based at the Translational Research Institute at the PA Hospital, the students are all undertaking their work under the supervision of Queensland Bladder Cancer Initiative and Australian Prostate Cancer Research Centre of Queensland researcher Dr Pat Thomas, and are each driving research aimed at saving lives.

Mahasha's research is focused on immune fighting cells against prostate cancer, Nathan's work is focused on 3D models of bladder cancer, immuno- oncology. Abby's research is in prolonging the viability of patient drug models in the labs with the aim of drug testing to give cancer patients the right treatment at the right time. Claire is studying the tumor microenvironment of bladder cancer, specifically looking at immune cells within bladder tumors. Last but not least, Alivia is looking at bladder cancer and prostate cancer metabolism and seeing if she can find any targets for drug therapies.

The students all agreed that they were incredibly fortunate to be in receipt of the unique opportunities that working at TRI and the PA Hospital (PAH) campus offered young researchers.

"It's a great opportunity to be so close to the hospital and be able to have direct access to patient specimens. We can collect those specimens (with patient consent) and then work with them in the lab next door and in what is a world-class facility," Mahasha said.

"We can then be able to appreciate how what we do in the lab relates to real outcomes with patients."

"Having clinical tissue makes our research a lot more translatable, and hopefully it will go and help patients in the long run. Getting to do that at TRI, it's so amazing because the facility here is just so great," Abby said.

"The very fact that we have access to real clinical patient samples is something that we're very fortunate for because that's quite rare in the research field, and it really drives forward the translatable factor in what we're actually researching," Nathan said.

Mahasha, Abby, Nathan, Alivia and Claire

With urological cancers still affecting thousands of families and across Australia, and unfortunately still taking countless lives, each of the students said working at TRI in cancer research gave them a sense of pride and hope that their work will have an impact.

"Working here at TRI I think is a really great incentive to keep pursuing it and keep working towards finding out answers every day. Because you know your work will affect patients," Alivia said.

Claire said as master's students they are all well aware of how important every piece of funding is to medical research groups like the QBCI.

"The funding that we receive is really vital to what we do because it enables us to do everything that we do and being so close to the PA, it is inspiring as a researcher because you do see patients around the place who may benefit from our work," she said.

QBCI team leaders and co-supervisors, urologist and clinician scientist Associate Professor Ian Vela, and Associate Professor Elizabeth Williams, both believed having the students on board was not only a plus in advancing urological research, but also for medical research in Queensland and Australia in general.

"Students like ours are critical, not only because we're giving them a foundation in translational research, which is going to be incredibly important for Australia moving forward, but having young minds that are going to be expanded to the opportunities of clinical and translational research, which they may not get exposure to in other centres is both unique and important," A/Prof Vela said.

"That's one of the fantastic things about the TRI and the campus that we have here at the PA Hospital. We will have our first graduate from our bladder cancer program hopefully very shortly. She is the only clinician scientist student in the country working on bladder cancer who is a future urologist, as she is on the urology training program.

"For me as a clinician scientist, that is very exciting that we have the future of my specialty, as well as potentially the future of medical research being "incubated" by our group. Without the funding provided by the PA Research Foundation, none of this would be possible. It's going to have huge positive knock-on effects in multiple ways, many of which we won't be able to predict."

"In addition to medical trainees, we are also attracting biomedical sciences and medical lab sciences trained undergraduate students to become higher degree research students. One of the wonderful things about our group is the diversity of people's backgrounds and research interests," A/Prof Williams said.

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