The Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer (FCIC) represents the physical presence of a united cancer front that transverses many people and places, says oesophageal cancer expert Professor David Watson.
As Head of the Discipline of Surgery at Flinders University since 2002, Professor Watson was involved in the initial campaign to create the FCIC, which now serves as an anchor for the raft of cancer activities spanning the university and nearby Flinders Medical Centre.
Instrumental in forming the Flinders University Cancer Control Alliance in 2006, which later became the Flinders Centre for Cancer Prevention and Control, and eventually embedded in the fabric of the FCIC when it opened in 2012, Professor Watson says Flinders’ cancer operation goes beyond the building.
“The cancer centre is the people, not the building, and the collaborations that occur between the various groups within the university and the health service on the Bedford Park footprint,”
“The concept of the building was to provide more infrastructure, a more strategic focus and more visibility, but the majority of cancer research and treatment doesn't actually happen in the building.
“What the Centre does do is provide more visibility.
“And with surgeons, medical oncologists, dieticians and other clinicians consulting in the building, it also allows some patients to be seen by multiple specialists at the same time, rather than having to come back and forth for multiple appointments.
“That's a significant plus from the patient perspective.”
Beat cancer project
Professor Watson, who pioneered the development and evaluation of laparoscopic surgery for gastro-oesophageal reflux, disorders and cancer, is responsible for injecting millions of research dollars into the Centre over the past decade.
One of these projects, co-funded by Flinders Foundation and, from 2018 to 2021, through the Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer initiative, aims to improve clinical standards for oesophageal and bowel cancer screening, prevention and treatment.
His research focuses on pinpointing patients at low and high risk of oesophageal cancer based on key indicators including age, gender and microscopic changes in the oesophagus. By removing very low-risk patients from unnecessary endoscopy surveillance, resources can be better focussed where needed, and clinical practice will be more cost-effective, he says.
“Our work, which has been integrated with health economics groups, has determined that current clinical practice in Australia and indeed around the world is essentially wasting resources and money.
“So we've built mathematical models of clinical practice, screening and surveillance to better target resources to the people who really are at high risk of cancer, and not waste resources on individuals who are unlikely to get a problem.
“Between five and 10 per cent of people with Barrett’s oesophagus will actually get cancer so if you can find the ones that will never get cancer and get them off the surveillance programs, you can save a huge amount of money and free up resources that can be used for other things.”
In the future, Professor Watson says the aim is to develop blood tests and tissue-based biomarkers to detect cancer early and predict recurrence, potentially negating the need for endoscopies and rewriting the standard for clinical practice around the world.