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“We have to have big, bold ideas” – A/Prof Punyadeera

A/Prof Chamindie Punyadeera. Photo by Tony Phillips (tonyphillips.org), courtesy of QUT.
August 2, 2021 News

A new device could make the early detection of head and neck cancers – such as throat cancer – much easier, thanks to the incredible research by Alumni  Associate Professor Chamindie Punyadeera.

Chamindie is a research intensive academic at Queensland University of Technology (QUT), who leads a team in many research areas, including non-invasive head and neck cancer diagnostics. “Imagine if you could have a cancer test at home,” says Chamindie, when explaining her work “wouldn’t that take the pressure off the healthcare system and patient?”

We may not yet be ready for home tests, but the device will use saliva to identify early signs of cancer, particularly oral/throat cancer. This is based on a saliva test study put together by Chamindie and her team, which detected cancer in an asymptomatic patient. A tumour not picked up by other scans, was removed, with the patient recovering in as little 2 weeks. He remained cancer-free for the rest of his life.

Saliva tests are much easier to use than current screening methods, which can be invasive, and/or rely on a patient already showing strong symptoms. “Early detection is key,” says Chamindie “if you find cancer early, it’s an 80% survival rate as opposed to 20%.”

Early detection could have saved the life of Chamindie’s brother-in-law, who passed away from the disease in 2006, mere months after diagnosis. He was 37 years of age. “I once thought head and neck cancer was brain cancer,” Chamindie explains “it’s throat, tongue, mouth. You would never wish it on your worst enemy. The surgery needed is the most mutilating I’ve ever seen.”

Realising that research is key for improving health outcomes, Chamindie left her role at Phillips Electronics (Netherlands) for the lab, using her biotech industry knowledge to focus on translational research. She came to Australia in 2008. “We have to have big, bold ideas (in research) and Queensland in particular promotes innovative research.”

Of course, any research needs funding, and in 2013, Chamindie applied for – and was awarded – a grant from the Foundation for her project, A simple, low-cost saliva test to detect oral cancers. “I’m so grateful to the Foundation. That grant money came when I was crawling. It helped me prove my concept on salivary diagnostics.”

Chamindie collaborates with fellow ENT professionals such as Liz Kenny (click here to see their Conjoint Grant research), groups such as Head and Neck Cancer Australia, and patients. “I like to work directly with patients. Doing research without the end-user is absurd. You need their input”. Her work outside of ENT includes predicting outcomes of patients with heart failure.

Congratulations to A/Prof Chamindie on her pursuit of excellence!

Read more about Chamindie’s world-first research here.

For her paper The salivary metatranscriptome as an accurate diagnostic indicator of oral cancerclick here.

External link: Chamindie at QUT