Researcher spotlight
Dr Maree Bilandzic

What is your field of medical research?
I am an ovarian cancer researcher with a strong interest in metastatic disease (where cancer spreads to other parts of the body). While there are many stories of survival and resilience around cancer, this is not the case for many women with ovarian cancer. Through my work, I hope to change the outlook for ovarian cancer patients to a more positive one.

What drives and inspires you?
I’m so honoured and privileged to do what I do. I come to a workplace that I love and make a positive impact on women’s health. Ovarian cancer survival rates have remained dramatically low for decades at around 30 per cent, especially compared with diseases such as breast cancer, which has an 88 per cent survival rate. I want to give women hope for a disease-free future. This hope inspires me.

Can you tell us about a project you’re working on at the moment?
Firstly, thanks to long-term support from the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation (OCRF), we are getting closer to a world-first early detection test for ovarian cancer. If the cancer is detected early, the chances of surviving after five years increase dramatically from 30 per cent to over 90 per cent.

Secondly, thanks to discovery research funding from the CASS Foundation, we identified a protein that ‘leads’ invasion in a small population of ovarian cancer cells. We believe this population is crucial to relapse and resistance to chemotherapy. In essence, our discovery means we have found a way to stop these cancer cells.

Now, thanks to funding support from the Fielding Innovation Award, I’m really excited that this discovery could be developed into a treatment. So many life-changing discoveries never make it because they aren’t funded. I’m incredibly grateful to be ableto realise the full potential of this research.

What do you hope to have achieved by the time you retire?
Do scientists ever retire? I can’t see myself retiring because I love it so much. I am looking forward to improving survival statistics for ovarian cancer patients through an early detection test and a new treatment.

When you have a couple of hours free, how do you pass the time?
I have two young boys (aged one and five). Both my sons are like scientists embarking on a journey of learning and discovery. More than anything I love observing and nurturing their curiosity about the world around them and seeing their determination to learn.

Why is funding important in science?
I owe my career and the fact that I am able to continue my research to philanthropy. It is so important, as it often steps in where traditional funding isn’t available for  innovative research with a high risk but potentially high reward. Support from the CASS Foundation, Fielding Foundation and OCRF has enabled me to establish my own independent stream of research and tackle an ‘old’ problem of improving ovarian cancer survival rates with a fresh approach. It’s great that philanthropy recognises we need new ways of looking at old problems and is prepared to back young keen minds to do it!

 

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