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CONCERT Member Of The Month:

Professor Marie Ranson: Dedicating her career to cancer research

Professor Marie Ranson has spent her whole adult life committed to uncovering the secrets of cancer and her most recent research into cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC) is no different.

Seeking to understand what makes some skin cancer tumours metastasise and others not, Professor Ranson and her team at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI) are delving into the genetic landscape of cSCC to discover if molecular changes in the tumours can help predict which ones will spread.

It is envisaged that understanding these tumours at a molecular level will enable clinicians to more accurately identify at-risk patients whilst also establishing routine diagnostic tests to diagnose and treat metastatic cSCC early.

“We’re looking to find if there is a signature within these tumours that can help clinicians more easily stratify risk in patients,” explains Professor Ranson.

Contrary to what people may believe about skin cancer tumours, appearance and size has little to do with whether a tumour have spread to lymph nodes.

“We have seen large, nasty-looking tumours which, after major surgery, are shown not to have spread. Whereas we’ve seen small cSCCs which don’t look nasty at all but are found to have metastasised into the lymph nodes which often leads to a poor prognosis.”

Professor Ranson brings over 30 years of experience in medical research to this project. As a full-time tenured teaching and research academic at the University of Wollongong, she has published 105 peer-reviewed articles and reviews, three book chapters and has several patents under her name. In addition to her academic role, Professor Ranson leads the Cancer Biology Group at IHMRI and is the Deputy Director of Cancer Institute NSW funded Centre for Oncology Education and Research Translation (CONCERT).

CONCERT’s role in research translation has opened up the lines of communication between researchers and clinicians which, Professor Ranson believes, will greatly benefit patients.

“The CONCERT grant funding has been great in helping us network with other cancer researchers across Sydney and NSW and has also helped in the translational aspect of research by providing the resources to enable meaningful collaborations with local clinicians,” she says.

“We’ve been very successful in bringing clinicians into research. Recently, two of these clinicians have been granted academic positions at the university. This success has piqued the interest of other clinicians who are interested in translational research which we know will ultimately benefit patients.”

Having committed so much of her time to cancer research, it is a wonder how Professor Ranson has time to catch her breath. But she recognises the importance of de-stressing and having her own Zen time. So, when she’s not diving into cancer research, you’ll find her cooking for family and friends, gardening or walking along the scenic Wollongong coastline.

Professor Ranson may not have uncovered all of cancer’s hidden secrets but with people like her at the forefront of cancer research, surely it’s only a matter of time.

By Linda Music