A medical researcher from UWA’s National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases who is passionate about advancing research into mesothelioma has been awarded the Douglas Peter Swift Scholarship.
PhD student Synat Keam, 32, is interested in exploring immunotherapy and radiotherapy combination treatments of mesothelioma through his research.
The scholarship is offered by the Swift family in memory of Douglas Swift, and aims to support PhD students at UWA researching mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos with no known cure. It affects hundreds of Australians every year, with WA having the highest rate in the country.
Douglas Swift, who grew up in Wittenoom, died at the age of 53 from mesothelioma. His legacy lives on through a family trust, with generous donations supporting PhD students at UWA’s National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases.
Mr Keam said the standard treatment of mesothelioma was through chemotherapy, which resulted in high toxicity to patients and rare chances of long-term survival, so developing better ways to treat it was vital.
“Immunotherapy treatments have been tested but the majority of patients do not respond to the treatments, and why some respond and not others remains a mystery to scientists,” he said.
“With support through the scholarship I will be researching immune checkpoint blockade treatments, which is a type of immunotherapy that works by enabling T cells to kill cancer cells.
“Through testing the effects of low-dose radiotherapy, I hope to find out what dose that can prepare the tumour area to be susceptible to immunotherapy.”
Mr Keam said he was inspired to explore ways of developing a cure for mesothelioma, because despite years of research, an effective treatment had still not been found.
“I remember sitting in on a mesothelioma clinic during my studies,” he said. “A patient’s children asked how long their father could expect to live. When they were told, the son burst into tears.
“This motivated me to work harder, in the hope that through my research I might find a cure or a way to prolong patients’ lives and their quality of life.”
UWA Assistant Professor Alistair Cook, from UWA’s National Centre for Asbestos Related Diseases, will supervise Mr Keam’s research.
Assistant Professor Cook said the PhD student’s passion to make a difference was inspiring.
“Synat has shown himself to be an exceptionally hard working and talented scientist, who sets himself high standards and consistently delivers to those goals,” Assistant Professor Cook said.
“I am confident Synat’s work will see us develop further understanding of this complex cancer and take important steps forward towards improving treatments.”