Our research on the international stage at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ Annual Scientific Congress, May 2019

Dr Swee Tan with the plaques for being the ‘Distinguished Invited Lecturer’ in the plenary session (on the left) and for presenting the ‘Tom Reeve Lecture’ (on the right).

In May, we were honoured to deliver presentations at the 88th Annual Scientific Congress of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, held in Bangkok. Over 1750 delegates attended the Congress from Australia, New Zealand, and around the world. Many of our colleagues inspired us with the discoveries they shared.

We gave eight presentations at the Congress. Dr Swee Tan, our executive director, was one of the Distinguished Visitors of the Congress. Dr Agadha Wickremesekera, GMRI research associate and CCDHB consultant neurosurgeon, Matt Munro, our PhD student, and Claudia Paterson, one of our summer students, also presented their research at the Congress.

Matt is thankful to the GMRI and the Yellow Pepper Trust for funding his trip. Claudia is grateful for the support of the Deane Endowment Trust, which funded her summer studentship and her attendance at the Congress.

Swee gave the Tom Reeve Lecture in the Surgical Oncology Section

Swee was invited to deliver the Tom Reeve Lecture in the Surgical Oncology Section, titled Cancer Stem Cells as a Novel Target in Cancer Treatment. This lecture outlined the relationship between cancer stem cells and the renin-angiotensin system, underscoring the GMRI’s novel cancer treatment. Emeritus Professor Tom Reeve did many amazing things in his career, including advocating for patient care during and after cancer treatment. It was a true honour to deliver this named lecture, especially as we’re researching a better treatment for patients affected by cancer.

Swee was one of three invited speakers at the Plenary Session

The Plenary Session Future Horizon brought together experts from around the world across a range of disciplines. Swee explained how the GMRI’s discoveries in strawberry birthmarks have informed our understanding of cancers and other conditions such as Dupuytren’s Disease and keloid disorder.

Swee delivered a Keynote Lecture at the Paediatric Surgery Section

Swee spoke on the GMRI team’s discovery of the stem cell origin and the involvement of the renin-angiotensin system in strawberry birthmarks, underscoring current effective treatment of this disfiguring and sometimes life-threatening tumour by repurposing commonly available, low-cost medications.

Swee delivered another lecture on pushing the boundaries of conventional treatment in the Pushing the Limits of Oncological Surgery session of the Surgical Oncology Section, focusing on surgery itself, asking: how far can we go? He presented the major advances in plastic surgery over the last 50 years that underscore better outcomes and preservation of the quality of life of patients. He concluded his view of the future – ‘we shouldn’t be doing bigger operations, we should think about doing no operations’. 

Claudia presented her discovery of cancer stem cells in lung cancer

Claudia shared her findings of Cancer Stem Cells in Lung Adenocarcinoma at the Cardiothoracic Surgery Section. Her study demonstrated the presence of cancer stem cells in lung cancer that could be novel targets in future treatments for this type of cancer, which causes the biggest number of cancer deaths in New Zealand.

Claudia found that ‘another great thing about the Congress was meeting and hearing from lots of expert surgeons. As a medical student, it really sparked my interest in how you can help a lot of people by using your own two hands.’

Swee, Agadha and Matt presented three lectures in the Oncology Section

Swee, Agadha, and Matt presented together in the Clinical Implications/Applications of Basic Oncology Research session. They focused on the implications of basic discoveries in the laboratory in achieving better patient care.

Swee was invited to speak on the team’s discoveries of cancer stem cells and the renin-angiotensin system in different types of mouth cancers. Despite conventional treatment with surgery, radiotherapy, and sometimes chemotherapy, these cancers have a low survival rate.

Agadha was invited to present on our laboratory’s discoveries in glioblastoma, the deadly form of brain cancer, which underscore our novel cancer treatment that we’re currently doing a clinical trial on. He was pleased to state that the findings so far are looking promising, although the trial is far from over.

Matt was invited to present the findings of his colon cancer research project so far, which aims to characterise cancer stem cells in colon cancer. He found the Congress inspiring and enjoyed hearing from surgeons who see the effects of disease first-hand. He said, ‘they had insights into what is really beneficial to patients and how we might be able to ensure our research is clinically relevant.’

We’re excited to use what we’ve learnt at the Congress

As Matt says, ‘in the future, rather than focusing on where the cancer is, it might be a case of looking at the specific features of an individual cancer before deciding what treatment to use’.