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PAH team secures cancer research grant for breakthrough study

8 January 2024

The PA Hospital and University of Queensland Frailty Network are coming up strong after securing two years of binary funding to support an in-depth study on the impact of frailty in older people undergoing cancer treatment at PAH. 

Funding secured from the Wereld Kanker Onderzoek Fonds (WKOF) as part of the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) International Grant will support the launch of the pilot project, which considers diet and exercise interventions for lung cancer patients. 

Additional funding from the PA Research Foundation (PARF) in partnership with SERTA (Study, Education and Research Trust Account) will support the expansion of the study to include additional lifestyle interventions (i.e. social connection and medication optimisation) and consider patients from across all cancer services at PAH. 

PAH Dietician and project lead, Louise Cooney says her clinical experience with cancer patients inspired her to explore the relationship between frailty and cancer treatment outcomes. 

“I noticed that a lot of our older patients were really struggling with malnutrition, fatigue, weakness, and a reduced ability to get up and enjoy their everyday activities of life because they're becoming frailer during their cancer treatment,” she said. 

“Initially, we were looking at addressing malnutrition, but when we started talking to their nurses and doctors at PAH, they identified that it isn't just poor oral intake, but it's a broader issue when it really comes down to the patient being exposed to or developing frailty because of their cancer treatment.” 

The first of its kind at PAH, the study is set to launch in 2024 as a three-part project that lets patients design their own lifestyle interventions to treat frailty. 

“This is an exciting project because it's asking patients with cancer to design a lifestyle intervention that suits their values and needs during a time when they're already quite busy with their cancer treatment,” she said. 

“We know from the literature that within other populations without cancer that diet, physical activity, social connectedness, and optimisation of medications reverses or prevents the development of frailty. What's unique about our study is that it's the first time we're looking at it in a group of people who are going through cancer treatment.” 

The project’s multidisciplinary framework will see specialists from across PAH lending their expertise to support patients in co-designing their treatment plans. 

“We’re really excited because this is a truly multidisciplinary team that includes specialists in nursing, physiotherapy, dietetics, medical and geriatric oncology, lifestyle intervention and research, so every aspect of the learning is being addressed. Ultimately, the design will be about the patients coming up with what will work best for them. Our expertise will come in on how we actually deliver that within our health system.”

The team will welcome ten participants to test the study, with the co-design component inviting 12-14 consumers from a range of backgrounds to contribute.

“It’s a small group, but we will target specifically those from different socioeconomic geographical regions and ethnic backgrounds, to get a decent representation of the different types of patients we see here at PAH.”

Louise with Primary Investigator Prof Ruth Hubbard and her team are hopeful that the findings will help establish the program into a permanently implemented method of treating frailty in older cancer patients at PAH.

“The overarching goal is for our older people to not develop frailty during their cancer treatment, or if they are frail, to improve their outcomes by reducing the degree or severity of their frailty. 

“There's really beautiful data that shows it's proportional, so the frailer you are, the poorer your cancer outcomes generally are. What we want to see is if we address the frailty, can we improve their cancer outcomes.”

Representatives from the World Cancer Research Fund said they were proud to award the pilot grant to the team and support the pioneering of vital research for older patients.

“This study will prove to be vital for older people living with a cancer diagnosis as there is currently limited research within this age group. It will help to give older people with cancer better dietary and physical activity support during and after their treatment.” 

Last updated 29 January 2024
Last reviewed 8 January 2024

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