A real-life connection can be a strong motivator driving excellence in scientific research.
For Royal Adelaide Hospital’s Alia, the experience of cancer is both personal and professional.
Alia has been awarded a 2024 Dawes Scholarship from Central Adelaide Local Health Network to support her PhD research focused on blood cancer patients.
A new cancer after stem cell transplant
Alia’s project will investigate a poorly-understood area of clinical care: the development of new cancers in patients who have previously had a blood cancer, and been treated through a stem cell transplant (also referred to as a bone marrow transplant).
“Stem cells transplants do cure some patients of their blood cancer,” Alia said.
“But unfortunately some of those patients then go on to develop new and different types of cancer.”
These new cancers can include skin cancers, bowel cancers and others.
“My research will investigate how many patients are affected, and why these new cancers develop,” Alia said.
“We’re also keen to explore what sort of screening and management plans could be built into the healthcare system to ensure subsequent cancers are detected early and treated effectively.”
Destined for a career in health
Ever since she was little, Alia seemed to be destined for a career in the healthcare sector.
“I was always that kid that loved biology, was obsessed with science,” she said.
“My favourite book was a pop-up anatomy one.”
When she was five years old, her grandfather was diagnosed with a blood cancer. A decade later, Alia’s father and aunty received the same diagnosis.
“I think ultimately that’s what steered me into this career path,” she said.
Alia is currently Clinical Data Manager at the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH), where she manages a statewide clinical database with over 2000 patients spanning more than 40 years. She will maintain the role on a part-time basis during her PhD.
Alia’s PhD supervisors are RAH clinician researchers Associate Professor Devendra Hiwase and Associate Professor David Yeung, both of whom were also recipients of a CALHN Dawes scholarship as PhD students.
Lead image thanks to National Cancer Institute.