A PhD student from the University of Western Australia’s National Centre for Asbestos-Related Diseases has been awarded a scholarship for his ongoing work into advancing research into mesothelioma.
Synat Keam, 32, is exploring immunotherapy and radiotherapy combination treatments for mesothelioma in his research.
The scholarship awarded to Keam is the Douglas Peter Swift Scholarship, which is awarded by the Swift family in memory of Douglas Swift, who died from mesothelioma after a lifetime living in Australia’s most asbestos-ridden town, Wittenoom, in Western Australia.
Western Australia continues to be plagued by mesothelioma, having the largest number of cases anywhere in the country.
Mr Keam has explained that the standard treatment of mesothelioma, through chemotherapy, has high toxicity for patients and rarely results in long term survival outcomes.
“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 has been studying mesothelioma treatments for many years and has worked with many patients who have short life expectancy upon diagnosis.
“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.”
The University of Western Australia’s National Centre for Asbestos-Related Diseases Assistant Professor Alistair Cook will supervise the research.
“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 that Synat’s work will see us develop further understanding of this complex cancer and take important steps forward towards improving treatment outcomes.”