Top placement for Melbourne haematologist


13 May 2016

A bright young Melbourne haematologist and researcher has won a place on an exclusive international training program spearheaded by the American Society of Haematology and the European Haematology Association.

Just 20 early-career haematologists have been chosen from all over the world to participate in the 2016 Translational Research Training in Haematology (TRTH) joint program.

Dr Chun Yew Fong, a haematologist and researcher at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Victoria, will receive a year of rigorous training and mentoring from international leaders in the field, directed at helping junior scientists build successful careers in translational hematologic research.

Speaking to the limbic this week, Dr Fong said he hoped the program would help him develop further skills in both haematology practice and research.

“It’s quite a prestigious award and I was very happy when it came through,” he said. “That’s been my long term career goal – to work clinically and see patients but also use the things I’ve learned in a research capacity.

“To be in amongst those fellow participants and see how they are kicking goals in what they do is very inspiring.”

TRTH participants include medical, biomedical, and pharmaceutical doctorate trainees who are actively employed in a haematology-related research environment. They have already attended the first phase of the program, a week-long course in March.

Participants will convene again at the 2016 EHA Annual Congress, in Copenhagen from June 9-12, where they will attend small group mentoring sessions. Finally, participants will present the status of their projects at the conclusion of the program at the 2016 ASH Annual Meeting, from December 3-6 in San Diego.

Dr Fong already has some impressive runs on the board when it comes to research. He was part of a research team at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre to have discover how acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) become resistant to treatment, through the development of an innovative technique to grow cancer stem cells for testing in a laboratory dish.

AML stem cells are particularly aggressive, so knowing how they respond when under attack enables researchers to devise interventions to negate the resistance risk, he said.

The study was published in the scientific journal Nature, and saying the discovery could lead to the ability to use treatment to targes epigenetic mechanisms of disease and effectively ‘turn-off’ cancerous genes in AML.

“It’s well on its way, but it’s not yet quite there yet in terms of widespread clinical use,” he said.

He said he hoped more Australian clinicians would join Australia’s growing research community, and that it was important for them to know they would gain a lot of insight into their own clinical practice as a bonus.

“It’s not a very common career path and that’s a shame because it’s a career path that’s very rewarding,” he said. “What you learn in the lab can be very helpful in improving patient care.”

He has strong confidence in Australia’s future as a major player on the international medical research stage.

“We are quite innovative and are competitive with the rest of the world,” he said. “We bat by far and away above our average in terms of research and development.”

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