24 January, 2019

McGuigans make "unprecedented" ovarian cancer donation

McGuigans make "unprecedented" ovarian cancer donation

Fay and Brian McGuigan are donating millions of dollars to help women suffering from ovarian cancer. 

The winemaking couple lost their 21-year-old daughter Vanessa to the disease 27 years ago. They've decided to sponsor a 10-year fellowship in her memory at the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI).  

Vanessa McGuigan passed away in 1990, just weeks after her 21st birthday.

“She was a great young lady and only 19 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer,” Mr McGuigan told HMRI. “For 20 years we just committed ourselves to our work with such dedication that it would get the sadness out of our minds, so we didn’t have to live with it every minute. It’s still the same.

“Through the love we have for our lost daughter we wanted to ensure that everything possible could be done by the present generation to reduce the pain and suffering that other ovarian cancer patients experience."

The disease presents with vague symptoms:

>> Abdominal or pelvic pain
>> Increased abdominal size or persistent abdominal bloating
>> Needing to urinate often or urgently
>> Feeling full after eating a small amount

There is no easy way to test for ovarian cancer, which means only 45% of women are alive five years after diagnosis.

Dr Nikola Bowden, who will be the lead researcher on the project at Hunter Medical Research Institute, described the McGuigans' donation as "unprecedented".

"At the moment we usually get funded for three or four years' maximum for our salaries so 10 years will see it all the way through the clinical trial at least, I'm really hopeful we'll get to the clinic in that time as well," she told ABC News.

Dr Bowden is working on improving the treatment process to predict whether or not a patient has responded to their chemotherapy and avoid patients having treatment that isn't going to work. She is also hoping to tailor treatment to individual women.

We often tread water while writing funding applications but now we can fully focus on patient outcomes,” she said. “Our end goal is better treatment options, particularly for those who relapse.

“We’re aiming to switch the mechanism that causes chemotherapy resistance in ovarian cancer so that patients will respond again. Hopefully we can also identify responsiveness much earlier.

“At the moment there’s a fine line between poisoning the patient and killing the tumour, and the side effects of chemotherapy can be horrendous, so we’d like to use those drugs in much lower dosage in combination with other therapies.”

The McGuigans hope their donation will prevent other people from going through the pain they went through.

"We've all got to put something back into our society if we can, and God willing, that will help other people, other sufferers in the future not have to go through the same anguish that Vanessa did," Mr McGuigan said.

"We also wanted to try and prevent others from going through that same feeling we went through; it doesn't fade away, it continues right through your life," Ms McGuigan added. 

Pictured: Fay McGuigan, Dr Nikola Bowden and Brian McGuigan at the Hunter Medical Research Institute.