Forbes' secret to success
Internationally recognised breast cancer researcher Professor JohnForbes’ secret to success is simple: you can’t help but achieve if you love what you do.
The good news is that Forbes’ passion lies in working towards one goal – a world without breast cancer.
"You have to believe and find a way. Have a goal and a vision – ask what we need to do to get from here to there and then believe that you can do it," says Forbes, a Professor of Surgical Oncology at the University of Newcastle and Calvary Mater Newcastle. He is also the Group Coordinator of the Australian New Zealand Breast Cancer Trials Group (ANZ BCTG) and a member of the Hunter Medical Research Institute’s Cancer Research Program.
It is expected that more than 13,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in Australian women this year. The good news is that mortality rates have dropped over the past 15 years thanks partly to treatment trials run by talented researchers like Forbes and his team.
As an undergraduate medical student at the University of Melbourne, Forbes was appalled by the way breast cancer was treated and the poor outcomes for women. Following training in surgery and research in the United Kingdom, Forbes returned to Australia to team up with oncology colleagues to establish the first national breast cancer trial group – the ANZ BCTG.
"We learned the enormous power of collaboration. If you are doing something on your own it is tough. If you have two people you can cry on each other’s shoulders, so it is not as bad. If you have three people, you can achieve anything.
"We have a group of more than 300 researchers in Australia working on breast cancer trials, so there is no limit to what we can do. Our global collaboration means we can magnify the enormous benefits for people in Australia, and can contribute and lead."
Thanks to Forbes and his team, Australian women have been among the first to benefit from the results of a global clinical trial for breast cancer prevention using the drug tamoxifen – an established treatment for breast cancer.
Forbes chaired the Australasian arm of the study, which confirmed that tamoxifen can reduce the risk of breast cancer in pre- and post-menopausal women at increased risk of the disease. The study also showed that after treatment ceases, the protective effect of tamoxifen continues for at least 10 years while the risk of side effects returns to normal levels.
Forbes and his team have embarked on a world-first, global trial of the drug lapatinib to test its effectiveness in controlling and preventing breast cancer. The drug is targeting women who have a particular type of breast cancer with a high risk of relapse.
With a global budget of more than $100 million, the ANZ BCTG is joining with the major North American and European breast cancer trials groups.
Forbes was recently named as one of the top 10 ‘hottest’ researchers in the world, with his inclusion on the Thomson Scientific ‘Hottest Researcher’ list for 2005 - 2006. Forbes’ international colleagues and the field of oncology dominated the list.
Affectionately known as ‘Prof’ to his colleagues, Forbes puts his success down to being part of a team.
"Certainly I play an important role, but it is a small component of a bigger team. And that is what research collaboration is about. You need intuitive ideas based on good science, and hard work, but in the end nobody does it on their own – and if they think they do, they are deluding themselves.â