Manju is a HPB and General Surgeon at the Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane since 2015. She completed her general surgery training in NSW and completed her ANZHPBA fellowship at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and Flinders Medical Centre, South Australia between 2012–2013. She returned to Sydney in 2014 to work in the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse as the AGITG Oncology Clinical trials fellow and the Upper GI fellow at Bankstown Hospital. She is an active clinical researcher and is passionate about improving patient outcomes.
We sat down with Manju as she shared with us career achievements, how she became involved in the AGITG and her favourite cuisine!
What inspired you to become a hepato-pancreato-biliary surgeon?
I’ve always loved the pancreas and have found it to be an incredibly fascinating organ. The anatomy and the location of the pancreas, it’s like the heart of the abdomen with so many major vessels going through it and it has such major roles in nutrition and diabetes. Then there’s the diversity of the different cell types in the periampullary region. It’s interesting, complex and challenging. It is also an ever-evolving area that extends our need for better understanding on so many levels, so it is intellectually a stimulating specialty. It’s just so rewarding.
I had the good fortune in medical school in Auckland to have been mentored by Prof John Windsor and did a study on how total parenteral nutrition affects the body composition of patients in severe pancreatitis as a student. The many hours in medical records, reading notes, operations, and learning the progress of patients has something to do with my love of the pancreas, I’m sure. That started it and then through my training I have met many incredible HPB surgeons and mentors who have supported me to getting to actually completing my training. And the patients are just amazing.
What achievement are you most proud of?
I am very proud of completing my Doctorate in Clinical Surgery in 2014. This was a big year for me and I am very proud of that year. I was pregnant with my daughter that year, a blessing I am so grateful for and waited a long time for. I got to do a Clinical Upper GI/Pancreatic Fellowship in Bankstown Hospital that year to consolidate my pancreatic experience, and then I got to work as a Clinical Trials Fellow with the AGITG that year. It was a year where all my great loves met, clinically, academically and personally.
Why did you become involved in the AGITG?
I love clinical research and I wanted to know how gastrointestinal clinical trials ran. I saw the opportunity to work as a clinical trials fellow with the AGITG in 2014, and Professor Neil Merrett said I could do that two days a week while working clinically as a surgical fellow – that was a dream come true opportunity for me.
Are there particular areas of GI cancer research that you believe hold most promise for the future?
I think growing acknowledgement of the four periampullary cancer subtypes, i.e., ampullary, duodenal, pancreatic and biliary cancers, is something that needs to happen. For too long these patients have been lumped together as pancreas cancer as they get a Whipple’s/pancreatic operation, and trials need to address their differences and needs on so many levels. The diversity here needs a voice.
I think then, we may actually see survival change when we give the cancers the chemo that works best for them or the treatment that works best by respecting their histomolecular differences.
What’s something that you’re passionate or inspired by in GI cancer research? You’ve previously mentioned being a mentor as something that’s important to you.
I love working with students and junior doctors and questioning different things in clinical practice through research. I think we need to challenge people to think and to learn to answer their own novel questions in clinical practice. This way we will continue to improve and make progress for patients.
If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
I would have loved to have dinner with Professor Christopher Martin from Nepean Hospital. When I was a resident there in 2005, I was interested in research and we spent a little time looking at different areas like cholesterolosis or strawberry gallbladders, and we wrote a letter to the Editor of ANZJS on sump syndrome from choledochoduodenostomies which was rejected! He gave me the time to explore surgical questions and was very kind. He passed away very prematurely, and he was someone I would have liked to have explored other research questions and ideas with.
If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
This is a tough one – strangely one of my favourite comfort foods is rice and tuna (a little spicy cooked with some chilli!).
What are your top three hobbies?
This is tough – as time is always a problem!
I love baking – my winter favourites are apple pies and peach cobbler and anything with rhubarb – like rhubarb crumble or rhubarb cake.
I love home improvement projects… a bit of gardening, changing things around, collecting art (not sure my family like this about me!)!
For the last few years, I have really enjoyed going with the family on ski trips – and while I am so poor at skiing, the little that I do is just so therapeutic, and I love the peace I feel in the Snowy Mountains. Plus my husband and I get to have lunch together on these holidays which is wonderful.