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Meet our clinical trials trail blazers

Meet our clinical trials trail blazers

International Clinical trials day is 20 May. The theme this year is ‘the trail blazers among us’. To mark the day Gold Coast health is celebrating a few of our own clinical trials trail blazers.

Dr Saman Heshmat, Neurologist

Neurologist Dr Saman Heshmat quotes James Parkinson when asked about the importance of doing work on clinical trials. When Parkinson described what is now knowns as Parkinson’s disease in 1817, he believed that a cure was imminent. 200 years later, neurologists such as Dr Heshmat are still searching for ways to slow the progression of the disease.

Clinical trials provide a step toward new treatments. Dr Heshmat has been involved in studies organised through the Australian Parkinson’s Mission (APM). The first of these trials, named APM1, is about to conclude. The organisation and its partners are now embarking on the second study in the series, named APM2.

These studies are testing some common medications, doxycycline and Ambroxol, for their usefulness in treating the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Dr Heshmat is aiming to recruit 15-20 patients for this trial.

“Some of the new research is focused on some measures which are not necessarily helpful with the symptoms in the short term, but in the long term, we are hoping to slow down the disease progression or even stop it. As part of this process, there have been discussions about repurposing some of the medications used for other conditions to see whether they can alter and change the course of Parkinson’s disease.” He said.

Dr Heshmat explained the idea for testing these common medications for their effectiveness on Parkinson’s comes from large epidemiological studies that show some sufferers of Parkinson’s have different outcomes – so investigations are underway as to why.

He said that clinical trials can be challenging, but they provide a deep level of satisfaction for clinicians.

“Clinical trials are time consuming, demanding and they require lots of energy and effort, but through that work we can contribute to the battle to push forward the front line of medicine,” he said.

“It also provides academic recognition for Gold Coast Health as an active neuroscience research site among all the other centres in Australia, and one of our goals is to be a centre of excellence for neuroscience in Australia and internationally”.


Dr Hal Rice, Interventional Radiologist

The first stroke patient in the world to have a large brain blood vessel clot treated with a robotic arm was treated at Gold Coast health as part of a clinical trial.

Associate Professor Hal Rice performed the procedure using the Corindus neurovascular robot at Gold Coast University Hospital.

That was four years ago. Today, Dr Rice and colleagues are preparing to push forward the future of remote robotic surgery through further clinical trial work.

Dr Rice said that the advent of 5G technology allows enough bandwidth for complex surgery to be performed by remote-controlled robots, and planning is underway to test this through a series of clinical trials in coming years.

“All the elements have come together. The robotic technology has grown, it is safe and effective and very precise, but you can't do it remotely if you don't have good connectivity – and that’s where 5G comes in.” he said.

There will be multiple steps needed to make the dream a reality, including the hardware and telecommunications setup, and trials using 3d-printed models of the brain.

Robotic technology in interventional radiology comes with a range of benefits, including reduced radiation exposure for the clinicians, who currently must wear heavy PPE for hours at a time to protect them from the exposure.

“What we're passionate about is the patients who live or people who live in regional and remote communities -- they deserve better health care,” Dr Rice added.

“And what the pandemic has taught us with telehealth is that patients in those areas don't need to fly into Brisbane or Belfast to see a specialist. They can have a video phone call.

“What we want to do now is take it the next step further and work out how we can provide emergency surgery for patients who have suffered a stroke remotely and getting those patients into surgery within an hour rather than 12 hours, and that is critical time saved.”


Victoria Cottam, Nurse Manager Clinical Trials Research Oncology and Haematology

Registered Nurse Victoria Cottam jumped at the chance to move into the clinical trials space a decade ago.

“It’s a privilege to be involved in work that has such an impact on patients and brings innovation to future of medicine,” she explained.

Victoria’s role is multifaceted. She assesses clinical trial proposals, assists with the setup and delivery of clinical trials and also has a hands-on role with the patients, ensuring the trial is in their best interest.

“When assessing clinical trials, we try to choose trials that are meeting an unmet need and which offer patients who might have no other treatment options some hope,” Victoria explained.

“I’ve seen some outstanding results from clinical trials, some which have significantly enhanced the patient’s quality of life and survival, with some being global firsts that have had international impact.”

Victoria has held her current role for one year, and previously was the clinical trials nurse manager at Gold Coast Health for almost four years. She qualified as a registered nurse in 2008 and her background is in intensive care nursing.

Victoria and other staff involved in managing clinical trials at Gold Coast Health have recently worked on ensuring the health service meets the new Clinical Trials Governance Framework, which came into effect earlier this year.

In the first three years the health service will be assessed against a maturity scale – this year it will happen alongside NSQSHS Short Notice Accreditation.

“The new framework will really streamline things across Australia to make clinical trials departments accountable for care and decisions,” Victoria said.

Victoria is passionate about providing access to clinical trials, saying: “Every patient should be given the opportunity to consider a clinical trial. Not just at our site, but at whichever site they are being treated.”

To learn more about clinical trials at Gold Coast Health, visit Clinical Trials | Gold Coast Health

Last updated 17 May 2024