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A/Prof Philip Gregory is the Laboratory Head for the Centre of Cancer Biology at UniSA and is a recipient of a Cancer Council Beat Cancer Project Principal Research Fellowship. He shares a bit about his work, what motivates him to make a difference and why support from the community means so much to him. 

Tell us a bit about your research? 

When I first started researching, we originally thought cancer was a lot simpler than what it really is. There are so many different types, almost like different diseases, which means that we need to almost find a unique treatment for each one.

My research is focused on breast and prostate cancer and trying to understand why some forms of the disease spread and others don’t. We’re drilling down and looking at individual cancer cells, trying to find out makes them turn from benign to aggressive. Once the cells become aggressive, they can go rogue and branch out and become really hard to treat. We hope that by finding out more about the cells, we can then provide better treatments, ensuring that people get diagnosed and treated earlier, with the right type of treatment, essentially stopping the cancer from spreading.

Have you always been interested in cancer research? 

When I was younger, I was very interested in science—I loved studying science at High School! At that stage, I didn’t know a lot about cancer or all the amazing research that was being done in this area.
I went to university and started learning about genetics and the nuts and bolts of how cells work. The complete sequence of the human genome came out during this time and that was really exciting as we could really start to understand how genes get damaged in cancer cells. The more I learned about cells, the more I wanted to learn about how they become cancerous and go ‘rogue’.

Is there a particular person or story that motivates you? 

My grandfather unfortunately passed away from prostate cancer at the same time that I was focusing my research on the disease. I saw him get offered every treatment available, but they didn’t seem to help. He had a lot of bone pain from the cancer which had spread throughout his body and he had a really difficult time towards the end. Seeing him go through that experience really stayed with me—it’s definitely a driving force behind wanting to try and find new and better ways to treat aggressive caner, which is what he had.

That’s the thing about cancer—in the early stages, before it’s spread, it’s incredibly treatable. Once it’s spread, it’s a whole different ball game. I saw that with my grandad.

How does funding from Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer Project help you? 

Cancer Council’s Beat Cancer Project is fantastic—it means that our team can access some of the newest technology available and use it to look at individual cells and how cancer changes their DNA. Once we understand that, it really will be a huge game changer.

Funding from Cancer Council SA has been enormous and helps up stay at the forefront of science. The research game is sometimes a hard game to be in, but people who are in science do it because they have a genuine passion to help others—and humanity in general—and that’s what funding from Cancer Council SA enables me to do.

Want to hear more about Phil’s work?

Visit our ‘Interviews with Keith’ podcast page here where Keith chats with Phil and other researchers funded through your generous support.