Prof Robyn Ward AM

Success in bowel cancer research

Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research), University of Queensland.

Robyn oversees research and research training at the University of Queensland. She is a distinguished academic leader, a practising medical oncologist, and cancer researcher.

Research success

Robyn’s relationship with Cure Cancer goes back over twenty years. She secured funding in 1994 and 1997 for research focused on identifying factors that can lead to bowel cancer.

Her research successes include determining distinctive genetic pathways by which bowel cancer can develop.

“Everyone nowadays is familiar with genetics, which is really the alphabet of your DNA,” Robyn says.

“What people have been less familiar with is how that DNA is labelled. The marks that are chemically attached to DNA have a significant role in determining whether particular genes in our body are switched on or off at particular moments in time,” she says.

The study of these marks can help determine what diseases people get, the impact of the environment on genes and - if individuals get cancer - whether it grows quickly or not.

Significantly, Robyn uncovered a pathway by which people can inherit bowel cancer from their parents. This discovery enables better screening and support to affected families.

Other successes include developing a screening test for bowel cancer, identifying the key role of precursor lesions (polyps) in the development of the disease, and using human antibodies to treat cancer.

Critical first step

Robyn recognises the backing she received from Cure Cancer was a critical first step in her career. She says it provides “emerging researchers a chance to develop their ideas where the risk may be high, but longer term outcome may be substantial.”

“A relatively small investment from Cure Cancer in dollar terms goes a long way,” she says.

Robyn has gone on to obtain over $38 million in competitive funding. Her contributions to medical research have been widely acknowledged. She has been awarded:

· A Commonwealth Health Minister Award for Excellence in Health and Medical Research (2004),

· The NSW Premier’s Award for Outstanding Cancer Researcher of the Year (2007)

· Membership of the Order of Australia (2013)

Previously at the University of New South Wales, Robyn was Professor of Medicine, Clinical Associate Dean at the Prince of Wales Clinical School, Head of the Adult Cancer Program at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre and Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Centre at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney.

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