Bruce and Christine Wilson. Photo by Dean Bradley.

Bruce and Christine Wilson. Photo by Dean Bradley.

It all started with a walk on the beach in Noosa. The father of one of the cofounders told Christine Wilson about the Snowdome Foundation, opening the door for a relationship that would lead to the establishment of The Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre for Lymphoma Genomics.

For the Wilsons, the pledge was very personal – Christine Wilson has been living with lymphoma for 25 years. The origin of the Snowdome Foundation was also deeply personal. It was founded in 2010 after co-founder and director Grant Rutherford’s nine- year-old daughter, Chloe, died from complications from leukaemia. Chloe loved snowdomes.

In Australia, around 12,000 patients are diagnosed with a blood cancer each year, and more than 4,600 will die – it is the third leading cause of death from cancer. This year it is projected that 6,232 patients will be diagnosed or relapse with lymphoma.

Genomics is a cutting-edge technology that tests patient’s blood for gene mutations that play a role in cancer. This is critical in cancers such as lymphoma, which have genetically-based underlying mechanisms. Sometimes as many as 50 to 100 genes need to be tested in this highly specialised, complex process. If gene mutations are detected, this can lead to better diagnosis and better, personalised treatment options or placements in clinical trials, which to date have been inaccessible for most Australian blood cancer patients. Up until now only a small percentage of lymphoma patients had access to genomics testing.

“We were struck by how genetics testing can save lives, or improve quality of life, for a group of patients who are in dire need of other treatment options. As a patient living with lymphoma for 25 years, I have been fortunate enough to experience the benefits of this cutting-edge technology,” says Wilson who had a stem cell transplant around 20 years ago.

“My family hopes that our support will make the centre’s ground-breaking work accessible to all Australians affected. We are also hoping this will inspire others to give generously towards making this a standard of care for everyone in the future.”

Importantly, genomic testing generates a huge amount of data that can be used to better inform researchers and clinicians and can be shared globally. Ultimately, developments in genomic testing will eliminate the need for toxic cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.

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“As a patient living with lymphoma for 25 years, I have been fortunate enough to experience the benefits of this cutting-edge technology.” Christine Wilson at the launch of the Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre for Lymphoma Genomics. Photo by Dean Bradley.

The Centre will be located at one of the world’s leading cancer research, education and treatment centres, the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. Peter Mac and the University of Melbourne will commit additional resources to support broadening the scope of the Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre of Lymphoma Genomics to extend the concepts of complex genetic analysis to myeloid malignancies such as acute myeloid leukaemia.

CEO of the Snowdome Foundation, Miriam Dexter, says the Foundation is a lean, predominantly volunteer-run organisation that operates very strategically to achieve its mission – to bring next-generation, cutting-edge treatments to Australian blood cancer patients faster.

After the initial introduction, Dexter says the Wilsons spent considerable time getting to know the Foundation and how it operates. “As they’ve gotten to know us, they felt more comfortable working alongside us,” she says noting how important it was to establish trust.

“We’ve spent the last year working closely with Peter Mac and the University of Melbourne to make sure the Wilson’s donation is helping Australian lymphoma patients in the way that they wanted it to. We’ve been very transparent in terms of how we have been working with the researchers and we’ve involved the Wilsons every step of the way.”

To shepherd the project and make sure the funds were directed to the right places, the Foundation established a committee called Project Wilson, led by one the Foundation’s volunteers who is a KPMG partner.

“You’d think it would be easy to spend $5.5 million, but to spend it wisely takes a long takes time,” says Dexter.

The results will be worth the months of painstaking work to bring the project to fruition. Dexter says that the Centre aims to help 1,000 lymphoma patients a year. As the work of the Centre expands, even more patients diagnosed with blood cancer every year will benefit too.

This collaboration between researchers, clinicians, university and philanthropy is leading the fight against blood cancer and the development of personalised medicine, not just in Australia but in the world. Most importantly, the Christine and Bruce Wilson Centre for Lymphoma Genomics will start saving lives right now.

For more information about the Snowdome Foundation, visit the website.