Melanoma revolution

By Dolores Dittner

Image of Professor Rick Kefford

Professor Rick Kefford AM (MBBS ’76 PhD ’87) delivered the UK’s first lecture for the Sydney Ideas International Lecture Series at the Oxford and Cambridge Club, Pall Mall, London in December. He is Professor of Medicine at the University and Director of Westmead Institute for Cancer Research and co-director of Research at the Melanoma Institute of Australia. His lecture topic: “Winning the battle against the Australian cancer: the revolution in treating melanoma”.

The incidence of melanoma is ten times greater in Australia than in other countries, Prof Kefford told his audience, and Sydney University leads the way in research, with emphasis on prevention, as it is the commonest cause of cancer death in younger adults. Work on targeted treatment and medication has had success with breast cancer survival rates, thanks to the use of drug treatments such as Herceptin.

The lecture ended on a practical and positive note: Professor Kefford showed evidence of tumours shrinking by half, the result of targeted medication. The lecture’s relevance and its accessible delivery meant that participants were able to understand and appreciate the information, irrespective of their background or medical knowledge – or lack of medical knowledge!

The audience of alumni from various academic disciplines was delighted with the opportunity to listen to such an eminent guest speaker, and also for the opportunity to meet other alumni over afternoon tea. Naturally there were many medical practitioners present, including Emeritus Professor Chris Hudson, a former colleague of Professor Kefford’s who, after Sydney, went on to work at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. Other alumni medical practitioners included Brian French (MBBS ’68), now a diagnostic histopathologist at St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester. Chris Roche (MA ’08), an Arts graduate who worked as a nurse, and is now training as a doctor at St George’s Hospital in London, where the first fast-track UK graduate medical degree programs were established – a new development in medical training for degree holders of other disciplines.

Among a number of non-medical guests were UK Alumni Association Friend, Elizabeth Hallett and Dame Janet Ritterman DBE (DMus ’10). Dame Janet’s music education roots go back to the then NSW Conservatorium of Music. From 1993 to 2005 she was Director of the Royal College of Music London. Gerard Battle (MEd ’97) and Dr John W Fearon (MEnvLaw ’86 LLM ’91).

To date, other lectures in this series have taken place in New York, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur; each delivered by eminent professors in their respective fields of academic expertise.

Dolores Dittner (BA ’80 MA’ 82) Chevalier de Palmes Academiques, is a Council member of the UK Alumni Association.