Irene Zinonos – Personal inspiration
As a member of the Breast Cancer Research Unit, Irene Zinonos says her family history with the disease has provided a major influence in her choice to pursue a career in cancer research.
What is your research role?
I am a member of the Breast Cancer Research Unit in the Discipline of Surgery at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research. Our research focuses on the metastases or the spread of breast cancer to other sites in the body, particularly the bones. Approximately 75% of patients with advanced breast cancer disease will have metastases to the skeleton. Cancer in the bone is generally considered incurable with available therapies only palliative at this stage. Our aim is to identify therapies that will be effective against metastatic breast cancer in the bone, as well as the primary site.
What are the benefits for people that come from your work?
If we can identify the factors that make the skeleton such a hospitable environment for breast cancer, we can then target those factors to treat patients with advanced disease. Patients with cancer in their skeleton suffer from extreme bone pain, skeletal fractures, hypercalcaemia and so many other debilitating effects which erode their quality of life. We hope our research will shed some light on how we can inhibit tumour growth in the bone and help improve the quality of life for these patients.
What led you to pursue a career in medical research?
I was always interested in human biology. My mother studied Science at the University of Adelaide and she is my main inspiration. However, without a doubt, my major influence to follow a career in cancer research would be my family history of breast cancer. My grandmother died of breast cancer when she was 40, leaving twelve children behind. Two of my father’s cousins have died from breast cancer and on my mother’s side another two aunties and two cousins are suffering from the same disease. I grew up hearing about breast cancer so I’ve always wanted to learn more and be involved in the research aiming to find effective treatments against the disease.
I have six sisters and with my mum, we are 8 women in my family. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their life, which means there is a high possibility that one of us might get it – that really scares me! Therefore, it is very important that we continue to do our research but also we need to help grow awareness and educate women about screening methods and early detection. Early detection is the best treatment!
What do you like best about your work?
I can’t even start imagining, let alone say that I know what cancer patients go through every day. The pain and suffering I’ve seen in many faces keeps me going. Only the thought of someone being diagnosed today keeps me motivated. So the fact that I’m actually doing something that might make a difference in someone’s life, who suffers from this disease, puts a smile on my face. That’s what I like most about our work!