Samantha Khoury Photo 2014 AFGW Barbara Hale Fellowship: Samantha Khoury, University of Technology Sydney

Project: Biomarkers for the early detection of oral cancer

Oral cancer rates are on the rise. In the US alone, 42,000 people will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2013 and it is the number one cancer in India with over 50,000 cases diagnosed annually. Worldwide the problem is far greater, with new cases exceeding 640,000 per annum. The age of diagnosis has also shifted to a much younger age group. Women in their 40’s now make up the fastest growing segment of the US population to be diagnosed. The key in managing this cancer is early detection.

The 5-year survival rate for oral cancers detected early is 70% compared to 37% for late diagnosis. Despite these facts, there are currently NO blood-based markers for the early detection of oral cancers.

My project aims to deliver an immediate solution to this urgent need. We have found five serum markers, which are highly elevated in the serum of oral cancer patients. These markers are unique in that they are small RNA strands known as microRNAs. These molecules are highly stable and their levels in the serum may provide an early warning system for the presence of oral cancer.

This study will test these five serum markers in just over 250 patient samples with the aim of using these markers in the clinic within 2-3 years. Early detection and thus early intervention would significantly increase patient quality of life and decrease mortality.

The current diagnoses of these cancers require a tissue biopsy, which is costly and highly invasive. As these markers are found in serum, they will be easier to collect and at much lower costs. This will provide the patient with a better choice and will increase compliance for oral cancer screening.

The cost of detection of these markers is significantly lower when compared against current diagnoses. Therefore there is the long term potential for these serum markers to be developed into a clinical assay for early cancer screening at a national level.

Given the increase in oral cancers around the world, the introduction of new diagnostic markers for oral cancer would attract strong support from both local and international health agencies. These fluid based markers would transform oral cancer management through early detection. With increasing rates of oral cancers in the UK, USA and India, these results would have a major international impact on cancer care and control.

Hannah Thomas2014 AFGW Fellowship: Hannah Thomas The University of Queensland

Project: Students’ self-reported experience of bullying behaviours: A public health approach to reduce bullying in Australian schools

Oral cancer rates are on the rise. In the US alone, 42,000 people will be newly diagnosed with oral cancer in 2013 and it is the number one cancer in India with over 50,000 cases diagnosed annually. Worldwide the problem is far greater, with new cases exceeding 640,000 per annum. The age of diagnosis has also shifted to a much younger age group. Women in their 40’s now make up the fastest growing segment of the US population to be diagnosed. The key in managing this cancer is early detection.

The 5-year survival rate for oral cancers detected early is 70% compared to 37% for late diagnosis. Despite these facts, there are currently NO blood-based markers for the early detection of oral cancers.

My project aims to deliver an immediate solution to this urgent need. We have found five serum markers, which are highly elevated in the serum of oral cancer patients. These markers are unique in that they are small RNA strands known as microRNAs. These molecules are highly stable and their levels in the serum may provide an early warning system for the presence of oral cancer.

This study will test these five serum markers in just over 250 patient samples with the aim of using these markers in the clinic within 2-3 years. Early detection and thus early intervention would significantly increase patient quality of life and decrease mortality.

The current diagnoses of these cancers require a tissue biopsy, which is costly and highly invasive. As these markers are found in serum, they will be easier to collect and at much lower costs. This will provide the patient with a better choice and will increase compliance for oral cancer screening.

The cost of detection of these markers is significantly lower when compared against current diagnoses. Therefore there is the long term potential for these serum markers to be developed into a clinical assay for early cancer screening at a national level.

Given the increase in oral cancers around the world, the introduction of new diagnostic markers for oral cancer would attract strong support from both local and international health agencies. These fluid based markers would transform oral cancer management through early detection. With increasing rates of oral cancers in the UK, USA and India, these results would have a major international impact on cancer care and control.

The goal of Hannah’s research to support schools in addressing issues to do with bullying, and help schools to improve current practices.

The harmful effects of bullying are widely recognised. Bullying in childhood and adolescence is associated with an increased risk of mental disorders, suicide attempts, drug and alcohol problems, as well as poor educational and vocational outcomes

Bullying is often not reported to teachers or parents, and can also go unobserved. The most useful way to assess school bullying is by asking students themselves. An associated issue is how to best capture the full spectrum of bullying behaviours, which now includes bullying through the use of technology – cyberbullying.

We are inviting students aged 12-17 years to participate in this research project; a large-scale survey of students (800-1000 in total) in Terms 3 and 4 2014. This research program would be significantly enhanced with a 6-month follow-up survey in Terms 1 and 2 2015.

The support of an AFGW fellowship grant would make a follow-up study possible.

This research will help school communities to monitor bullying in their communities, and thereafter work collectively (parents, teachers, and students) to reduce bullying, and in turn improve the mental health of students.

Hannah is currently conducting an online survey of adolescents’ and adults’ responses to hypothetical scenarios. In addition, Principals of participating schools will receive a report of the overall findings of the study. We will also provide schools with the results of the bullying specific to their school. The report will also include additional information about preventing bullying and provide specific recommendations about supporting students. The researchers are also willing to assist schools by offering a free presentation/information seminar (for staff, parents, and/or students) on bullying (if this is helpful).