Health Services, Medical research,

Marilyn’s historical feat

Latrobe Regional Health (LRH) is at the forefront of a world-first clinical trial set to improve outcomes for patients with advanced or metastatic melanoma.

The first Australian patient to join this melanoma trial is Marilyn De Hass, a 78-year-old woman from Stratford in central Gippsland.

The trial is being conducted at LRH alongside hospitals in metropolitan Melbourne, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada and United States.

This also means the eyes of the international clinical trials community will be focussing squarely on Gippsland, Marylin’s progress and the LRH research unit.

“It’s so fantastic that I was able to access this clinical trial locally, here at LRH,” Marilyn said.

“It’s made such a difference to my experience and reduced my stress by not having to drive to the city.”

The trial is being carried out in Gippsland as regional Victorians are 40 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma than people in metropolitan areas.

However, only 35 per cent of these patients in regional Victoria are able to receive treatment locally.

This makes the opening of this trial even more vital.

Marilyn was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma about six months ago after tests revealed tumours throughout her body.

Doctors were unable to pinpoint how it was caused and told her the melanoma would not respond to chemotherapy or radiation.

She was asked if she was willing to take part in a clinical trial to gain access to the latest treatment not yet available to the general public.

Clinical trials are run under strict protocols and participants must first pass eligibility criteria, after which they are closely monitored.

“The team explained the trial to me really thoroughly, I had no doubts at all, and I am so thrilled to be the first patient on this trial in Australia,” Marilyn said.

“The support I’ve had is great, the staff are fantastic. After my first dose of treatment, I am feeling 100 per cent with no side effects so far.”

Meanwhile, Marilyn is still able to go about her daily business, play at the Stratford Bowls Club and is even booked for a trip on the Ghan railway.

LRH Medical Oncology Head and lead trial clinician Dr Quan Tran said bringing world class clinical trials to Gippsland was an “amazing achievement” for the research unit and “extremely beneficial” for patients.

“The trial provides our melanoma patients with access to more treatment options, that would not otherwise be available in the region,” Dr Tran said.

“When someone is battling cancer, being closer to home and loved ones during their treatment journey is invaluable.”

LRH General Manager of Research and Partnerships Dr Jhodie Duncan said it was an “exciting chapter” for the unit to embark on world-first clinical trials at a regional health service.

“This trial is such a momentous milestone for our hospital and the research unit.” Dr Duncan said.

“I’m so proud of the entire team who works collaboratively across many areas so that clinical trials can be offered to patients in our community, ensuring they get the best care closer to home.”

Latrobe Regional Health has been part of Australian-first pilot program called TrialHub since 2020. Funded by the federal government, the program, which currently works with six Victorian health services, has provided significant investment and support , such as workforce upskilling and clinical trial pharmacy training, to build independent clinical trial units outside of metro centres.

A clinical trial is a research study where volunteers can undergo new treatments, devices or tests to help prevent, detect, treat or manage diseases or medical conditions.