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Philanthropy’s impact on improving care in patients with oesophageal cancer

Dr Colby Stevenson, Oesophageal Cancer researcher

Oesophageal cancer (OC) is the 11th most common cause of cancer deaths in Australia, claiming the lives of 1,400 Australians annually. It is a devastating disease, with a five-year survival of less than 25%, compared to 70% for all cancers combined in Australia. From this darkness, rays of hope emerge, promising brighter tomorrows for patients diagnosed with OC.

Royal North Shore Hospital (RNSH) has a multidisciplinary team of clinical experts across oncology, radiation oncology, and surgery, delivering exceptional care for patients with OC. The Kolling Institute on the RNSH campus is the longest-running research organisation in NSW and houses world-class researchers and cutting-edge equipment.

In 2022, the Howlett family, triggered by the loss of their son Scott to OC, decided to transform grief into action. In Scott’s memory, they established the Scott Howlett Memorial Scholarship, to raise awareness and drive progress in OC research. Through their generosity, Dr Colby Stevenson, an early career researcher, was awarded the opportunity to begin his research into OC at RNSH and the Kolling Institute.

Dr Colby Stevenson acquired his fellowship in general surgery through the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in 2023. He is an upper gastrointestinal surgery fellow at the Northern Beaches Hospital, with a keen interest in oesophageal and gastric cancer.

Given the uncommon nature of OC in Australia, it takes many years to collect and bank meaningful numbers of specimens. The Kolling Institute tumour bank has been storing OC specimens from patients treated on campus for over 20 years. Through the generosity of the Howlett family, this philanthropic donation allows Dr Stevenson to analyse these tumours and the associated clinical data for his research.

His aim is to conduct research on OC specimens through genomic sequencing and proteomic analysis to identify biomarkers on the tumour that may subsequently allow the prediction of response to treatment or overall prognosis.

“I am incredibly grateful to the Howlett family and honored to be awarded the Scott Howlett Memorial Scholarship. This research could significantly improve the care of future patients with oesophageal cancer, through identifying those patients who may benefit from specific pre-operative treatments or identifying potential new treatment targets specific to the tumour,” explained Dr Stevenson.

The Howlett family welcomes Dr Stevenson’s leadership of this project. “It’s a deadly cancer, with low public awareness. The more research that Dr Stevenson and others conduct raises the profile of OC, which translates to a better future survival rate through earlier detection and treatment,” said the family.

Additional sources of funding for ongoing research are required for this project. If you would like to help, make a difference to the lives of patients with OC, please make a tax-deductible donation here or contact the philanthropy team at [email protected].

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