AM for Cancer Researcher

By Bev Jordan

Professor Phoebe Phillips AM from Baulkham Hills (cover photo) is a cell biologist who has spent 20 years studying the interaction of cells in the pancreas.

Her team at the UNSW’s Lowy Cancer Research Centre is now on Phase 2 of clinical trials repurposing a drug usually used to treat arthritis which can breach the scar tissue that surrounds tumours and offer new hope to people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

“Most patients when they are diagnosed will only live a few months and this really hasn’t changed for 40 years,” she told the Hills to Hawkesbury News. “Only about 10 per cent of patients survive to 5 years.”

Tests so far have resulted in a 50% reduction in the growth of tumours and reduced the spread of pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic tumours have an extensive scar tissue which makes up to 90% of the tumour creating a fortress that chemotherapy cannot breach.

The team’s research has uncovered a new way to deliver drugs to the tumour despite the scar tissue.

Phoebe says that their research is also looking at how to deliver personalised treatment to patients. “Everyone is different and this will enable the best chemotherapy treatment for that patient.”

She says she is inspired in her quest to improve treatment outcomes by her husband Josh McCaroll, a fellow scientist who is researching childhood cancers and lung cancers. “He is a survivor of teenage cancer and my inspiration,” she said.

Phoebe is Ambassador of Cure Cancer Australia, Research Specialist at Sydney Pancreatic Centre and Head of the Pancreatic Cancer Translational Research Group.

In 2009 she won the Dean’s Rising Star Award at the University of New South Wales where she is now Professor and Associate Dean of Medicine and is Deputy Director, Cancer Clinical Academic Group, Sydney Partnership for Health, Education, Research and Enterprise (SPHERE) since 2021.

Before then she was Deputy Director, Adult Cancer Program, Lowry Cancer Research Centre, 2017-2021. She is a Project Leader at the Australian Centre for Nanomedicine, since 2015 and has held numerous other roles.

Her roles with the Australian Society for Medical Research have included Board Member and President. She has several awards for research.

As a teenager in Albury she says she was fascinated by how the body worked and pursued science to find the answers

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