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Towards a world without melanoma

Tuesday 14 July 2020

Towards a world without melanoma – University of Queensland Dermatology Research Centre and the PA Research Foundation – A decade of collaboration

A world without melanoma, under the guidance of Professor H. Peter Soyer, that's the goal of the University of Queensland's (UQ) Dermatology Research Centre (DRC).

The DRC edges ever closer to that lofty but important aim thanks to a decade long partnership with the PA Research Foundation (PARF), with the Foundation providing over $700,000 in funding to support the DRC's vital research.

From little things big things grow

Professor Soyer, who had worked for 23 years in the Dermatology Department at the Medical University of Graz, in Graz Austria before moving to Australia, has had a long association with the PA Hospital (PAH) and PARF.

Prof H. Peter Soyer, Director, Dermatology Research Centre, University Queensland

"My research interest was always the early detection of melanoma and using novel imaging technologies. I moved in 2007 to Australia and in erly 2008, I became the Director of the Dermatology Department at the PA Hospital," Prof Soyer said.

"I had a dual role as UQ Chair in Dermatology and clinical position as hospital dermatologist at the PA Department of Dermatology.

"Around this time, I started speaking with the Foundation which I heard was actually a great support for researchers.

"Some colleagues and I started doing skin cancer screening for the Foundation where we went out to construction sites, to offices in the city and to Channel 10 at Mt Cootha and even at the Regatta Hotel for the men's health breakfast events.

"It was around 2014 when we got a significant donation from a Sydney dermatology foundation, called Epiderm, who organized the World Congress of Dermatology in 1997 in Sydney. Actually, I was one of the overseas participants of this meeting, visited Australia for the first time and I felt in love with the country.

"After nearly 20 years, Epiderm decided to close, and with their surplus of funds, made a significant donation to our research program, This allowed us further leverage from specific foundations, one of which was PA Research Foundation.

"Over the years we've had a very close collaboration with the current PARF Chief Executive Officer Damian Topp and Nick Allen and Professor John Prins before that. We have had a great collaboration over the years."

Lifesaving research and technology

With Melanoma the third most diagnosed cancer among Australian men and women and sadly taking the lives of an estimated 1726 Australians in 2019, continued collaboration between PARF and the DRC is vital to reducing the melanoma burden.

During the 10 years the DRC has worked with PARF several important strides have been made including; the Changing Naevi study, trials assessing genetic risk and establishing the first VECTRA 360 Whole Body Imaging System, which creates in seconds a 3D avatar for health professionals to assess moles and troublesome lesions.

For Prof Soyer, technology such as the VECTRA Imaging System, and teledermoscopy projects such as a mobile app which was supported by PARF and Energex in 2017, can be a difference maker in reducing the melanoma burden.

Prof Soyer checking a female patient's skin

"One of the things driving me is the fact that dermatology was falling behind the technology curve, there are medical disciplines like radiology who are on the top of the technology curve," he said.

"Dermatology, because we're looking at the skin surface and we are very good in this we often think we don't necessarily need imaging technologies.

"But I always had the impression we needed imaging technology and recently so much is going on this field of technology development opening the door for artificial intelligence (AI) in form of cognitive assistants. I have been very, very fortunate that the PA Research Foundation but also the PA Hospital Metro South Health leadership, in 2015 helped me to get the prototype of the 3D Total Body Imaging System (VECTRA).

"This was certainly a highlight in my career as PAH was the second hospital in the world who had it."

Going forward the DRC will continue to work with PARF and is partnering with the University of Sydney and Monash University as they try to continue to reduce the numbers of people being diagnosed with melanoma in the hope that one day, they can stand proud of achieving their goal.

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