Garvan Breakthrough December 2019

Clinical Trial Spotlight

PAINTING for Parkinson’s

Thanks to decades of research, the five-year survival rate for women who are diagnosed is now at 91%, but there is still more work to do. With 1 in 7 Australian women diagnosed by the age of 85, and with Australia’s increasingly ageing population, it is critical to continue to work towards better treatments. In order to undertake novel research, access to human tissue is critical. Project SHARE (Specimens Help All Research Efforts) is a program that encourages people undergoing breast surgery at St Vincent’s Hospital to donate tissue to research at the Garvan Institute. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia and claims the lives  of eight women every day.

Now a renowned artist, Bernie McGrath, has generously donated the proceeds of a number of his artworks to support Garvan’s Parkinson’s research.

In 2008 Bernie underwent deep brain stimulation at the Royal North Shore hospital in Sydney. Following his procedure Bernie began to feel more creative and started playing around with paints, reinventing himself as an artist – “it has given him a whole new lease on life,” says Elizabeth. There are 100,000 Australians living with Parkinson’s. The available treatments and interventions, like deep brain stimulation, address only the symptoms of Parkinson’s, not the progression of the disease. Garvan, along with the Shake It Up Australia Foundation, the University of Sydney, the Cure Parkinson’s Trust (UK), Michael J Fox Foundation (USA) and Parkinson’s Australia, has established the Australian Parkinson’s Mission. An innovative research program, the Australian Parkinson’s Mission will combine clinical trials with genomics research for people with Parkinson’s. The clinical trial component is anticipated to begin in early 2020. Now a renowned artist, Bernie has generously donated the proceeds of a number of his artworks to support Garvan’s Parkinson’s research.

Led by Garvan’s Associate Professors Elgene Lim and Alex Swarbrick, Project SHARE makes the donated tissue samples accessible to breast cancer researchers to underpin their research endeavors. Garvan is home to one of the largest breast cancer research programs in Australia. Our scientists are conducting cutting-edge research on the progression of breast cancer, and the development of new treatments. Their research focuses on cancer metastasis, resistance to anti-estrogen therapies, finding the ‘off-switch’ for triple negative breast cancer, cancer metastasis in bone, increasing sensitivity to endocrine therapies and more.

Bernie McGrath was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease 20 years ago, at the age of 42. He and his wife Elizabeth had two young children and a thriving real estate business. His diagnosis came as a shock to both himself and his family since Bernie was so young. As his condition developed and was more noticeable, he began having trouble doing his buttons up and his writing began to shrink in size. “He was signing contracts and the signatures were getting tiny like a little ant had written it … as time progressed with his business, I used to have to dress him and then eventually I went to work in his business to help him too, because it was pretty bad,” says Elizabeth. “It would be wonderful to find a solution or some sort of cure or to be able to manage it a lot better. If you can afford it, it is a tremendous thing to be able to give to medical research,” says Bernie.

A/Prof Elgene Lim

A/Prof Alex Swarbrick

A number of historical breakthroughs, such as the development of a new therapeutic approach that specifically targeted the HER-2 molecular receptor in breast cancer, have only been made possible through the analysis of archival human tissue samples. Today, as healthcare moves increasingly towards precision medicine in part, the need for tissue samples will only increase.

This research project is supported by Love Your Sister.

To find out more, or arrange to donate a tissue sample from your surgery to research, please contact: Claire Gray, Breast Cancer Clinical Research Nurse (Mon-Thur) 

claire.gray@svha.org.au 02 9355 5708 

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