International Women’s Day Illawarra Committee recognises new career focus

First-year PhD candidate Carolyn Hollis has been awarded the Dr Margaret Gardiner Scholarship for Medical Research (Scholarship) at the International Women’s Day Luncheon in Wollongong on 8 March 2019.

The International Women’s Day Illawarra Committee established the Scholarship in 2018 in honour of the late Dr Margaret Gardiner, a renowned Wollongong GP and public advocate for breast cancer awareness.

Ms Hollis is researching ways to improve the treatment of brain cancer in the laboratories of the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute (IHMRI).

She is supervised by IHMRI affiliated researchers Professor Michael Lerch and Dr Moeava Tehei from the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Centre for Medical Radiation Physics.

“My project seeks to improve outcomes for people with brain cancer, particularly glioblastoma,” explains Ms Hollis.

“Our goal is to target treatment at the tumour with little or no damage to nearby brain cells. We want to extend peoples’ lives with fewer side effects by developing a synergistic approach to treatment, one that combines chemotherapy, radiation and nano-technology.”

Embarking on a PhD has been a personal and professional journey for Ms Hollis. Following an extensive career in information technology (IT), she decided to change direction following the death of her father from a brain tumour.

“Many people ask why I don’t retire. After my father’s death from a brain tumour, I felt I should contribute to making peoples’ lives better in some way. Cancer of the brain is a dreadful disease. Patients suffer loss of function, hallucinations, seizures, and in the case of glioblastoma, certain death,” she explains.

An alumnus of UOW with a Bachelor of Mathematics and a Bachelor of Science (Physics), Ms Hollis returned to university to study for a Bachelor of International Science (Biology) degree. After achieving in the top five per cent of students in UOW’s Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health in her first year, she decided to pursue post-graduate research after encouragement from Associate Professor Sybille Schwab.

This background in a variety of disciplines has enabled Ms Hollis to meet the challenges of researching a complex disease like brain cancer.

“Our team needs researchers who have the knowledge and skills to work in a multidisciplinary environment of biologists, chemists and physicists. People like Ms Hollis have a better understanding of the global picture of brain cancer. One type of treatment will not provide a solution to brain cancer. We need to find ways to combine different types of treatment,” states Dr Moeava Tehei.

The Scholarship will help Ms Hollis purchase the pipettes, plates and chemicals needed for experiments, and pay for travel costs to the radiation oncology department of Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney to use their Nucletron Oldelft Therapax DXT 300 Series 3 Orthovoltage unit and Elekta Axesse linear accelerator.

“It is a privilege to receive this Scholarship. I knew Dr Margaret Gardiner while our sons were at school together. I marvelled at her enthusiasm and drive to raise funds for breast cancer research. I take inspiration from Dr Gardiner in my pursuit of better outcomes for sufferers of brain cancer.”

Ms Hollis is now the second IHMRI affiliated researcher to receive the Scholarship, with the inaugural Scholarship awarded to cancer researcher Dr Kara Vine-Perrow in 2018.

Statistics on brain cancer

  • Brain cancer kills more children than any other disease.
  • Only two in ten people diagnosed with brain cancer will survive for at least five years.
  • Approximately 1750 people are diagnosed with brain cancer each year in Australia.

Source: Cure Brain Cancer Foundation


Originally published on IHMRI Newsroom


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