Making a difference to many
15 March 2019
I was one of six children to adventurous and curious parents. We lived in various countries around the globe, including Italy and the US, and our way of doing things was always a little unconventional. When we went on holidays, we went camping in famous European cities and slept in ‘sleeping sheets’ that my mother had sewn from scraps of material with kid-friendly prints. From my father, I learned to ‘work hard and play hard.’ A family joke was that a 30-minute bushwalk with my parents could take upwards of 2 hours, given that we had to examine every native plant along the track. My father, who was an anesthesiologist, and my mother, who taught and researched public health, never pressured us to follow them in their medical careers. But my mother would often talk about the joys of impacting people’s lives with epidemiological research and public health policies. Her mantra of ‘making a difference to many’ really struck a chord with me.
I grew up reading the medical books my parents owned. This might be why after completing a PhD in chemistry (supervised by a powerhouse of a mentor, Margaret Harding) and a Fulbright postdoctoral fellowship with Reza Ghadiri at The Scripps Research Institute in California, I felt that my chemistry PhD could be supplemented with in-depth medical knowledge. So I went to medical school, which I completed in 2000.
A sliding doors moment came a few years later when I had a chance meeting with the Australian pathologist Richard Scolyer. I had just had my third baby and completed my oncology training, and I was considering which area of cancer to specialize in. Richard cycled past my backyard in Sydney and stopped to chat. “You’re crazy if you don’t get into melanoma,” he said. He explained that we Australians have one of the highest incidences of the disease in the world, with no effective drug therapies. Becoming a melanoma specialist would therefore be a huge opportunity to effect change.
Melanoma and its risks were not new to me. My father would warn us of the risk of damage from ultraviolet rays and would wear long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats outdoors at a time when sunburns weren’t thought of as seriously as they are today. Later, in medical school, I had researched melanoma of the head and neck. So when Richard suggested melanoma as a specialization, I think a part of me was already ready for it.
I loved studying cancer. There were many opportunities to perform research and to make a difference in melanoma. My first four years as a medical oncologist and translational researcher were self-funded by grants I wrote. At the time, despite having three children, the oldest of whom was 4, I was not allowed to take the grant part-time. This was challenging, as I had to juggle schedules at home, the clinic and the research lab.
Fast-forward more than a decade, and Scolyer are I are now co-medical directors of Melanoma Institute Australia. We are working towards what was once unthinkable—zero deaths from melanoma. My work now focuses on targeted and immune therapies in melanoma, which have significantly improved the survival of patients with advanced melanoma and have even cured some. When I entered the melanoma field, more than 90% of patients with advanced melanoma did not live longer than three years after diagnosis. Now, more than 50% of patients make it past three years.
However, many challenges remain. Determining specific mechanisms of resistance, which is a growing problem, is a current research focus in our laboratory. We’re also testing different ways to administer drugs. Trials in patients with stage III cancers suggest immunotherapy works better before surgery than after, and we think that this is because the presence of the tumor helps elicit a stronger antitumor response from the immune system.
Reflecting on my career path brings to mind so many influences, both people and experiences, that were critical to my career. I am a proud mum to three teenage daughters and have achieved all these things with the support of my free-thinking and visionary husband Greg, who predicted that there’d be a huge wave in melanoma research and that I had to catch it. With the continued support of my family and colleagues, I look forward to achieving zero deaths from melanoma in my lifetime and to making a difference to many.
This was originally published in Nature Medicine | Turning points | FOCUS | VOL 25 | MARCH 2019 | 356–357 | www.nature.com/naturemedicine |
Published online: 6 March 2019 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-019-0390-x
Almost $9 million of new funding was awarded to 13 ground-breaking cancer research projects at the 2019 Cancer Council NSW Research Awards. The chosen world-class research teams are leading the charge towards a cancer free future by investigating new ways to diagnose and treat the disease. Melanoma Institute Australia researchers, including Co-Medical Directors Professor Georgina Long and Professor Richard Scolyer, Associate Professor Matteo Carlino and Dr James Wilmott, have been awarded Cancer Council NSW Funding of $425,095.
Georgina V. Long is co-medical director of Melanoma Institute Australia and Chair of Melanoma Medical Oncology and Translational Research. She is the first woman president of the Society for Melanoma Research.
Quintessential Aussie girl and media personality Sophie Monk has been announced as a National Ambassador for Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) and its national awareness and fundraising campaign, Melanoma March.
Australian researchers have for the first time identified specific cells and receptors in the immune system which predict how a patient will respond to treatment with immunotherapies, potentially paving the way for the development of personalised therapy for all cancer patients.
Melanoma March is thrilled to introduce Ricky as our official Principal Partner for 2019!
World record holder, Olympian and Australian swimming champion Cate Campbell has been announced as National Ambassador for Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) and its national awareness and fundraising campaign, Melanoma March.
MIA's expertise was essential to a recent Nature publication spearheaded by Perth’s Telethon Kids Institute and The University of Melbourne.
MIA is delighted to be hosting the MD Anderson pathologist on his first ever trip to Australia.
Clinicians, patients and other stakeholders in the cancer community are invited to make submissions in support of the PBS listing for dabrafenib and trametinib.
Three students from Arden Anglican School in Epping have won Melanoma Institute Australia’s (MIA) inaugural SunSafe Student Ambassador Award.
Mark Whittaker’s ‘Here comes the sun; Defending our summer rays’ (GW 24 Nov) clouds the sun-safe message – which could have disastrous consequences.
Professor Georgina Long is among only 12 researchers from the University of Sydney to be named in the 2018 Highly Cited Researchers List.
‘Wearing sunscreen should be as automatic as wearing a seatbelt. Both are potential life savers.’
The Poche Centre to host 3D total-body imaging system as part of world-first initiative to save lives from melanoma
A prestigious $10 million Australian Cancer Research Foundation grant has been awarded to ACEMID, an initiative that aims to use 3D total-body imaging and a remote medicine network to improve the detection and diagnosis of early-stage melanoma.
Professor Georgina Long and Professor Richard Scolyer have been recognised as world leaders in melanoma research for their ground-breaking work that has changed the diagnosis and treatment landscape of melanoma world-wide, and tripled the life-expectancy of advanced melanoma patients.
Leading researchers from Melanoma Institute Australia have taken out the top accolades at the NSW Premier’s Awards for Outstanding Cancer Research.
An impressive contingent of female delegates from Melanoma Institute Australia have presented findings across the whole spectrum of melanoma research at the Society for Melanoma Research 2018 Congress in Manchester, England.
Over 800 researchers and clinicians from around the world were welcomed to Manchester for the 15th International Congress of the Society for Melanoma Research (SMR). Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) has again sent an impressive number of delegates to present both oral presentations and posters with the latest in translational research.
Professor Georgina Long makes history as the first woman and first Australian to lead the Society for Melanoma Research
Professor Georgina Long makes history as the first woman and first Australian to lead the world’s most prestigious international melanoma research association.
Two publications co-edited by MIA Co-Medical Director Professor Richard Scolyer are now available to healthcare professionals. They aim to provide assistance in the care and management of patients with skin cancer, including melanoma.