Emerging leaders are on the path to discovery

The 2021 winners of the prestigious Picchi Awards have added their names to an honour board already littered with successful scientists.

As we celebrate our newest crop of Picchi Award winners, we checked in with the winner of the 2017 Picchi Award in Clinical Science, the newly appointed Associate Professor Kathryn Field, to reflect on her remarkable journey thus far.

A genuine superstar in oncology, Kathryn Field was last month appointed Honorary Clinical Associate Professor in the Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology at the University of Melbourne.

Her latest appointment comes after several higher degrees, including a Doctor of Medical Science and Doctor of Philosophy through the University of Melbourne, and a Master of Public Health at Harvard University, for which she was awarded the W.G. Walker Fulbright scholarship for the top-ranked postgraduate candidate. She was also awarded a Frank Knox Memorial Fellowship for her time at Harvard.

Recognition for Australia-first clinical trials innovation

Dr Field’s Picchi Award-winning research in recurrent glioblastoma provided a unique opportunity to participate in an Australian-designed clinical trial. CABARET was the first clinical trial of its kind in Australia. The clinical team and Cooperative Trials Group for NeuroOncology (COGNO), a cooperative trials group located at the NHMRC clinical trials centre, quickly recruited 120 patients from across Australia, implementing the trial and gaining effective results promptly.

For Dr Field, the Picchi Award provided tangible recognition for the ‘hard slog’ that is completing a PhD, as well as a strong sense that she was on track in her career.

“I was so thrilled to win the Picchi Award it was such a boost to my confidence. “It gave me a sense of validation that what I was doing actually mattered. The value of that is impossible to quantify!”

In the pre-COVID-19 world, Dr Field travelled to Singapore to the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) Asia meeting.

“I had not been able to travel to conferences for some time before that, having very young children at the time, so it was really inspiring to be able to get back into watching superstars present in an international setting,” she said.

“I love that feeling of just being thrilled and inspired by the science, and attending that conference definitely gave me that feeling.”

And to researchers in the frame for submission to the Picchi Awards, her message is simple:

“You have to be in it to win it! This is such a great opportunity for clinical and basic science researchers to be recognised for their hard work, and it’s an incredibly generous and prestigious award.”

Collaboration the key to success

Completing her PhD through the University of Melbourne’s Department of Medicine at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, and now involved in both patient care as a medical oncologist, and cancer research at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Royal Melbourne Hospital, Dr Field is well and truly embedded in the VCCC Alliance. And her enthusiasm about its direction and the power and potential of its collective impact philosophy for cancer outcomes in Victoria is obvious.

“I love how the VCCC Alliance is so much bigger than one hospital, or one research institute.”

“I really believe that collaboration is the key to success, and with this approach, we as individual clinicians and researchers also feel as though we are part of something much bigger than the four walls that we are in.

“I think the great and enthusiastic leadership, as well as close relationships with overseas centres and institutions, will continue to carry the VCCC Alliance forward. I am very happy to be a part of that, and I look forward to the Strategic Program Plan 2021-24 coming to fruition.”