imageq8sl.pngA branch of the Lions Club in Hallett Cove visited the Centre for Cancer Biology (CCB) laboratories recently to present a cheque to support a student with her dream to help find a cure for cancer.

Melissa Bennett, having completed her degree at Adelaide University in Biochemistry and Genetics, was offered an opportunity to participate in research with Stuart Pitson’s team, studying cancer cell growth in the Molecular Signalling Laboratory of the CCB.

A key challenge for Melissa, as it is for many graduates, was how she would support herself while gaining the research experience she was seeking. “University science courses are full-on as many people know, but at this level the workload increases noticeably, so I was forced to give up my part-time job recently to focus on my studies. It’s fortunate I still live at home or else I wouldn’t be able to survive. Even the costs involved with running a car and getting to work was proving pretty tough” Melissa says.

Melissa was assisted by a donation of $2000 from The Lions’ Club of Hallett Cove and Districts. President Dennis Connor said the idea to support a student came about after Jason Powell from Stuart Pitson’s team spoke to club members and gave a presentation about the lab’s work in cancer research.

“It was extremely interesting” said Dennis. “We got to see and understand what sort of research was happening, but also realised this was an area that’s often lacking the support it needs. There is clearly great work being undertaken in scientific research, but few medical students want to work in this area because the pay rates are lower.”

Melissa says she first realised her vocation for science and chemistry early in her secondary schooling. “I have such a passion for research. It’s the excitement of working on something, testing new theories, understanding what’s happening inside the human system and having those breakthrough moments. They don’t happen too often but when they do it makes it all worthwhile.”

Melissa was a former student of Stuart’s at Adelaide University. He says SA Pathology, with the Lions’ assistance, have together managed to encourage ‘one of the brightest’ amongst her peers.

“She’s a brilliant student who is going to make an exemplary researcher” says Stuart. “It also highlights the issues we face in getting the best students where there’s no guarantee of a secure income compared with other fields of medicine – you do need that dedication and commitment.”

“I applaud the Lions getting behind this, seeing value in what we do here and supporting Melissa in her studies because we’re making discoveries in cancer research all the time. I’m hoping other community groups will see the impact of what this means – both for us as an organisation and for students like Melissa - and perhaps decide it’s the sort of thing they would like to help fund too” Stuart says.

“It can have the effect of not only changing one young person’s life – it could potentially change thousands of lives when you have the next wave of young researchers of Melissa’s calibre coming through here, working to uncover crucial information about cancers which lead to new therapies in the search for a cure.”