Dr Danielle Ferraro, recipient of the Kristian Anderson Award

Dr Danielle Ferraro: How the Kristian Anderson Award enabled my research

Dr Danielle Ferraro from the University of Melbourne was the recipient of the inaugural Merck-AGITG Kristian Anderson Award in 2013. She received $36,700 to support her PhD research at the University of Melbourne.

The Award was established in honour of the late Kristian Anderson (1975-2012) who was diagnosed with cancer in his bowel and liver in October 2009, at age 34. After Kristian’s life was prolonged by cetuximab, a drug used in the treatment of advanced colon cancer, he used his profile to successfully lobby the federal government to subsidise it to extend availability.

The Kristian Anderson Award offers an MD or PhD student $36,700 to support one year of their higher degree. Dr Ferraro’s PhD is investigating potential biomarkers to improve identification of patients who will benefit from targeted treatments for colorectal cancer, and which will not. Her work has focused on the use of immunohistochemistry to look at particular biomarkers and determine which people are likely to benefit.

Currently, there are two targeted drugs used in the treatment of colorectal cancer, cetuximab and panitumumab. There are currently some limitations to the ability of doctors to accurately identify all patients who will benefit from treatment. By discovering a way to determine whether it is worthwhile for patients to have a particular treatment, those who would not benefit can be ruled out of treatment early, and in this way forgo the side effects.

“I’ve always enjoyed the clinical side of oncology, but doing a PhD has given me a greater appreciation for how important translational research is, and how breakthroughs in basic science can have a real impact on patient outcomes,” says Dr Ferraro. She is currently analysing the results of her study for the completion of her thesis.

“Colorectal cancer is a huge problem Australia- and world-wide, and we still have a long way to go,” she says. She also says that the Kristian Anderson Award has played an important role in enabling research like hers. “Going back to higher degrees is difficult when you’re a clinician so it helps to offset some of the costs. It can be quite a lifestyle change going back to being a student.”

“It’s a really important area of research and there’s a lot of work going on out there so to have companies willing to support it is really significant,” she says. “Particularly for clinicians who want to go back it does help offset some of the other costs associated with studying and hopefully leads to improved outcomes.”

The 2018 Kristian Anderson Award is currently accepting submissions. Details are available here.