May 8, 2018

"Without research I wouldn't be here."

The words of young father and cancer survivor Ben Service, 32, sum up the significance of an $18 million funding boost to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre.

Ben says without the ONJ Centre he wouldn't be alive and enjoying life with his wife Jess and their two young children Darwin, 8 and Henry, 4.

The Service family were elated when Premier Daniel Andrews alongside Health Minister Jill Hennessy and Olivia Newton-John announced $8 million for a new MRI-linear accelerator service for Austin Health – the first of its kind in Victoria and just the second in the Southern Hemisphere.

The State Government also announced $10 million for the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute to establish a Centre of Research Excellence with a focus on brain cancer. The funding will also assist with infrastructure and support researchers to continue current ground breaking work.

Austin Health director of Radiation Oncology, Associate Professor Farshad Foroudi says the new MRI linear accelator service, which will be introduced in 2019, will have enormous benefits.

Assoc Prof Foroudi says current radiation treatments rely on CT imaging to locate tumours whereas the new MRI-linac machine uses superior diagnostic quality MRI imaging to target the tumour with greater precision, and in real time.

“This ground breaking clinical technology will benefit patients with brain tumours, liver tumours, prostate, breast, head and neck cancers,” Assoc Prof Foroudi says.

“It enables us to deliver radiation more accurately to tumours, limiting exposure of healthy tissue to radiation.

“By improving the accuracy of radiation treatment delivery we will be able to improve the control of cancer while sparing normal tissues from side effects.”

Flanked by his wife Jess and their children Darwin, 8, and Henry, 4, ONJ patient Ben Service, 32, says he has advances in cancer research to thank for being alive.

“Research means I’ve been able to see my little girl’s first day at school. Without research I wouldn’t be here,” the Warrigal man says.

Ben was diagnosed with malignant melanoma two years ago. Shortly after diagnosis his cancer spread to his bones, liver and brain. Under normal circumstances this would be rapidly fatal, however he was able to receive life-saving immunotherapy treatment.

This was done using the liquid biopsy test developed by Professor Alexander Dobrovic at the ONJCRI.

He was also able to receive highly-targeted radiotherapy to control the tumours in his brain.

As a result of these treatments, he is now disease free.

“I honestly think it would be a different outcome if I wasn’t at the ONJ,” Ben says.

“To imagine in December 2016 that I thought it was my last Christmas and New Year with my family,” he says.

Jess describes the results as “out of this world’’.

“I thought I was going to lose him so many times. I am so grateful; from the bottom of my heart,” she says.

Minister for Health Jill Hennessy says researchers at the ONJ Centre are leading the way in the fight against cancer.

“We’re giving them the support they need to continue their work revolutionising patient care and one day find a cure,’’ Minister Hennessy says.

Photo courtesy of Victorian Government