3 February 2023

'From the lab to the bedside': Plans unveiled for new cancer research centre at Canberra Hospital

| Claire Fenwicke
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New cancer research centre

A design render for the new cancer research centre on the Canberra Hospital campus. Photo: ACT Government.

We’ve been given a glimpse of a new cancer research centre which the ACT Government hopes will attract more specialists and ultimately provide more treatment options to people in the Territory.

The $7.045 million facility was a 2020 election commitment. Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said it is part of a “bigger picture” for Canberra Hospital, which would see the development of a training, research and innovation precinct on site.

“This research centre is a real down payment on the future thinking about Canberra Hospital as a hub for a learning health system where people come together, not only to deliver exceptional patient care, but to continue to improve that care through research, through innovation, that is partnering with consumers every step of the way,” she said.

The facility will integrate a research laboratory into a clinic space where people can be assessed for clinical trials, along with allowing sample collection to be coordinated with lab technicians to be processed or stored in appropriate cooling facilities until ready.

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By giving researchers a central space to conduct their work in the same building where people are receiving treatment, it’s hoped it will encourage more care to move “from the lab to the bedside” and back again.

“It’s very, very important for innovation that things are co-located, that people are coming into contact with one another,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith

Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith and Professor Paul Craft with renders for the new cancer research centre. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Canberra Health Services chief operating officer Cathie O’Neill said having everyone located in one spot wasn’t just about efficiency.

“The interface, particularly between the researchers and seeing real-life patients, is really critical as it helps them to ground the work that they’re doing, and so having the wellbeing centre here on the same floor as the research centre is going to have huge benefits for those relationships,” she said.

“It’s often those informal corridor chats that make a real difference; if somebody gets a thought about following up a particular patient or runs into a colleague that they’ve been thinking about getting in touch with, it just makes all of that so much easier.”

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Medical oncologist Professor Paul Craft helped in the design of the new research facility.

He sees this as a “first step” for developing more of a “culture of inquiry” at the hospital, and he’s “very proud” of the work done so far.

Professor Craft hoped it would see the development of more phase one trials, not just for cancer but also for blood disorders and haematology.

“We hope to have nursing research in this space in collaboration with the University of Canberra, and translational research – taking laboratory research to the bedside – providing innovation based on the biological research that’s so well known from our universities such as the ANU,” he said.

“There will be room for growth in the research program, which is the whole point, and we hope to attract further researchers.”

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The hospital is particularly interested in attracting more senior researchers, who could also bring a wider range of expertise to the area and open up treatments currently unavailable in the ACT.

“Some of the best specialists in cancer and haematology and immunology really value research and are attracted to an institution which can support and facilitate that research,” Professor Craft said.

“To attract the very best people, having a research program already in place that can support their ongoing work is a great advantage.”

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One area the ACT Government has been working on is providing treatments for gynaecological cancers in the Territory.

Ms Stephen-Smith said the government was on a “positive trajectory”, with more information expected to be revealed in the coming weeks.

She said while “we can’t do everything here in the ACT” because of the small population, she expected gynaecological cancer treatment to expand in the future.

“The research centre gives us the opportunity to continue that thinking and that work around where we can expand into the future and to be able to attract those people to do the clinical work alongside the research and innovation that they’re passionate about,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“We will continue to find opportunities to expand what we can deliver here in the ACT on the basis of our population, our critical mass and the specialists we can attract to deliver our services.”

Construction of the cancer research centre is scheduled to begin late this year and is expected to be completed in late 2024.

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