About Dr Susan Woods
Dr Susan Woods was recently inspired by meeting a group of relatively young cancer survivors. “They had amazing stories to tell and did so in an unassuming, giving way,” explains Susan. “Their positive outlook and resilience were a powerful reminder that as researchers we have to provide them with better treatment options.”
To that end, Susan, who’s been involved in cancer research for eight years, is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide. Susan spent several years in renowned international cancer labs, working with inspirational leaders, including in San Francisco, where she spent time in the laboratory of Nobel laureate J. Michael Bishop, investigating a new drug for treating neuroblastoma.
Susan returned home to Adelaide in 2015.
“It was amazing for a girl from Adelaide to collaborate with wonderful colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco and with the biotech company that developed the drug,” she says.
Susan has also worked in Brisbane with outstanding researchers led by Professor Nick Hayward, studying melanoma and how changes to DNA can make patients more likely to be diagnosed with the disease.
Susan is using her experience with drug testing in her current project – as part of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Biology group headed by physician-scientist Dr Daniel Worthley.
Here, with her Cure Cancer Australia supported grant, Susan aims to discover whether colorectal cancer can be prevented by a new drug aimed at 'support cells' in the intestinal lining, where tumours form.
This work could form the basis of more extensive studies and, someday potentially, a clinical trial. “We’ve also seen levels of the factor that we’ll target in other cancer types, so our work may have wider significance outside colorectal cancer,” she adds.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of the disease in Australia after skin and prostate cancers, costing health services over $1 billion annually. Despite the advent of large public screening approaches to detect and control it in its early stages, many people still present with advanced disease. “Sadly as yet, there are no effective treatments for most of them,” Susan says.
As someone who has first-hand experience caring for a family member with metastatic disease, Susan is moved by the support that Cure Cancer Australia and their fundraisers give to projects such as hers. “Knowing my work is mainly funded by the efforts of people affected by cancer, their friends and families makes it imperative for me that the research we do is cutting-edge, innovative and produces real outcomes for patients. I’m not in the lab for purely intellectual reasons.”
She is pleased, too, that the Cure Cancer Australia grant gives her independence, viewing the funding as a stepping stone to a career as a researcher with her own lab.
While Susan agrees that one of the biggest frustrations for scientists is spending time applying for grants that could be used for conducting experiments, there has to be some method of evaluation, she observes.
Susan's message for people affected by cancer is to get the best medical advice you can, question your clinician if you don’t understand information, or seek someone else to explain it, and work out a plan for treatment. “Keep in mind it’s important to do things that make you happy, and recognise that mental well being and strong relationships with friends and family all help.”
Her priorities now include increasing the five-year survival rate for people with metastatic disease. “These patients will tell you that every extra week or month counts, and that’s what I’m trying to give them.”
Susan enjoys spending her time away from work with her partner and their two small children, visits to the beach and a family farm, and playing hockey.