Pioneering research has been the hallmark of Prof Helen O’Connell’s internationally renowned career.

SINCE becoming Australia’s first female urologist, Prof Helen O’Connell’s many achievements have included revolutionising the way medical students study female pelvic anatomy, as well as conducting more than 30 clinical trials.

That spirit of innovation is now driving Prof O’Connell’s work at Western Health, where she was appointed Director of Surgery and Head of Unit Urology Unit in 2016.

A major collaborative study involving the Urology Unit Urologists, the Prostate Cancer Nurse Specialist, North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network and Cancer services at Western Health is a trial of a model of shared care for patients with low-stage prostate cancer.

The five-year Shared Care project is supported by Department of Health funding for our dedicated prostate cancer nurse, who facilitates personalised care shared by regional General Practitioners and Western Health clinicians.

Prof O’Connell says this model not only improves care for patients, but will deliver “high-quality data” for future research.

“There is also potential for more advanced forms of prostate cancer to come under this banner,” she says.

Another new initiative for prostate cancer patients includes the Navigate Decision Aid – an interactive, online resource designed to help guide men and their families through the stress of diagnosis and potential treatment options.

The online tool is a collaborative study between Western Health, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Swinburne University.

“One of the things with a cancer diagnosis is there is potentially so much anxiety for patients around what they don’t know,” Prof O’Connell says. “For them to be able to get good quality information is likely to translate into better quality of life while they’re living with a diagnosis, which may never materialise into a problem. That’s a really important thing.”

The Urology Unit is also establishing a partnership with the Victorian Prostate Cancer Registry which carefully tracks the outcome of prostate cancer treatments.

Prof O’Connell is excited to be forging a collaboration with Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, which will allow Western Health Urologists access to data from the Aspirin Reducing Events in the Elderly (or ASPREE) study.

The study, led by Prof John McNeil, has tracked 19,000 healthy adults over five years, with the primary goal of determining whether daily low-dose aspirin prevents or delays the onset of age-related illness.

Prof O’Connell says the data is a “magnificent” resource across a broad range of specialties –thanks to the detailed health and clinical measurements collected from participants.

“We are in the throes of setting up some studies using this very powerful Melbourne-based database,” Prof O’Connell says.

“We’re delighted that the group has given us access to this valuable information.”

There is a series of Urological questions embedded within the data which will serve as excellent control data for other studies.


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