Medical research,

Teletrial provides continuity of care for prostate cancer patient

A South Gippsland prostate cancer patient has seamlessly continued taking part in a world-class clinical trial after he relocated from across the Nullarbor.

This is thanks to a local hospital running the trial via a new concept called a teletrial.

A teletrial is where hospitals/health care providers work together as one team to deliver the same clinical trial across more than one site.

The model means regional and rural patients can access clinical trials closer to home, reducing the mental and financial burden of often having to travel hours to metro centres for treatment.

This particular teletrial is looking to see if a new drug used in conjunction with current best treatments can improve outcomes for people with prostate cancer.

The 59-year-old man who has asked for his name to be withheld, moved from Perth to South Gippsland to be with his wife’s family and start a new job.

He had begun a prostate cancer clinical trial at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth but was keen to stay on the same trial in Gippsland. Thanks to the teletrial model, this was possible.

It allowed the patient to transfer his treatment to Latrobe Regional Health (LRH) with additional oversight provided by The Alfred’s radiation oncology team.

The patient and his wife moved their horses, goats and dogs across the continent, but the pair said this would not have been possible if he couldn’t stay on the trial.

“I thought my only option was to continue the trial in Melbourne, but then I found out I could do it at LRH which was fortunate for us as it’s a two-and-a-half-hour trip to The Alfred,” he said.

“The level of care at Charlie Gairdner was replicated here, I was totally confident about the whole process of staying on the trial, it didn’t matter which state I was in, the transition was so easy.”

The patient didn’t have any symptoms before his cancer was picked up via a routine prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test with his GP in 2021.

Specialists found it had moved to his lymph glands and surgery would be too risky. His Perth doctors suggested he sign up to a clinical trial.

According to the Cancer Council, one in every 40 Victorian men over 50 have been diagnosed with prostate cancer in the past five years, making it the most prevalent form of cancer for older men.

“I had nothing to lose by going on the trial and the doctors explained everything that was involved so it didn’t seem daunting, they made me feel very comfortable,” he said.

“If this gives me some longevity then it’s a bonus and it may have some good results down the track.”

LRH Research General Manager Dr Jhodie Duncan said the teletrial model enabled LRH to deliver trials in partnership with a major metro hospital and provide care closer to home.

“This is a relatively new model for us in Victoria, but we hope to embed it into our practice as it enhances our ability to provide better care for regional patients,” Dr Duncan said.

“Teletrial gives us an opportunity to run clinical trials that we may not have the capacity to run as an individual site.”

Alfred Health Radiation Oncology Research Manager Robin Smith praised the partnership with LRH and the success of carrying out the clinical trial together.

“Working with Latrobe Regional Health is fantastic. As a relatively new clinical trial and research team, the passion, energy and enthusiasm are infectious,” Ms Smith said.

“The communication between the two hospitals is exceptional, it is seamless. We really do feel like one big team. We are already exploring what other trials we can open together.”

TrialHub is a federal government-funded pilot based at The Alfred Hospital established in 2020 to help regional and rural hospitals to set up their own independent clinical trial units.

TrialHub is overseeing the implementation of the teletrial model, including the partnership between LRH and The Alfred, to work towards providing equal access for all patients.