Meet Danielle Skropeta – Researcher

Researcher – University of Wollongong

Danielle Skropeta_ (002)
Danielle is a Professor in the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health at the University of Wollongong and leads a team of chemistry  researchers in the area of chemical glycobiology, which holds the key to better treatments in cancer and microbial infections.

Your area of cancer research

I lead a team of amazing chemistry researchers at the University of Wollongong. Together we are developing a novel anti-cancer treatment that targets metastasis across multiple cancers including pancreatic & ovarian cancer. Our approach is to develop a targeted agent that is non-toxic to reduce side effects and improve the quality of life of cancer patients undergoing treatment.

How long have you had consumer representatives involved with your cancer research?

I connected with Cancer Voices consumer representative Bruce Cheek in 2023 and before that, I engaged with other consumer representatives through my workplace.

 

What is the most positive outcome for you of having a consumer representative work with you on your research?

To meet a consumer representative such as Bruce has been so inspiring. He is such a wonderful person and so generous with his time, he answers all my queries and provides both general and specific advice on my research project. I have been impressed at the level of detail to which he provides feedback. Bruce has helped to make my grant applications clearer and more understandable to a wider audience and he also provides lots of encouragement that is highly motivating to me and my team. There is a very high level of respect between us and I am so grateful to have Bruce on my project team.

I love the following quote which sums up why you need a consumer representative on your team.

“He[she] who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he[she] who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all.”  William Osler (founding professor, John Hopkins Medical School).

 

What are some of the challenges that you have faced working with a consumer representative?

None. I am so impressed working with Bruce. For grant applications, Bruce gets back to me with highly valuable feedback to incorporate in my applications. Grant timelines are often tight with a small window to submit an application and so it may not always be possible to get feedback from a consumer representative in time for an application. But I see this as a longer-term relationship to work together to continually improve and prune the research project together to enable it to be more fruitful each round.

 

How has the consumer representative been able to help you with your project?

Bruce has been of immense help on my project – his feedback is pure gold. We have shared numerous emails back and forth discussing about applications and the project itself, how it is described to different audiences and the pathway to clinical trials. The feedback is so valuable as it from the perspective of a cancer patient/representative, which makes the project more authentic because you are hearing from the very people who represent those who will use the treatment in the future.

 

What do you know now that you would like to have known at the beginning of your involvement with consumers?

The importance of bringing consumer representatives into your project at the earliest point as a full member of the team. Input from consumers is critical to a cancer drug development project as it enables you to see the project in a more critical light and inspires you to keep going through the marathon that is cancer drug development research. I also believe it will ultimately make the project more successful because you have taken on board the feedback of the most critical person in the project, the patient.

If you could say one thing to a new researcher about working with consumers, what would it be?

Firstly, connect with Cancer Voices. They have been amazing and I am so grateful that I was put in touch with Bruce Cheek, as a consumer representative on my project. Ultimately, it is a cancer patient who will receive the treatment being developed, so their voice and feedback on the project is the most important of all.  The feedback I have received through this process has been exactly what was needed and I see the improvements that comes out of every discussion.

If you could say one thing to a new consumer representative, what would it be?

A huge thank-you! It is an incredible gift that you give back to the cancer research community by sharing your time and your personal experience to guide the improved design of treatments. Your input is highly valuable and together we are a stronger team and can move our treatment strategy further along the path to clinical trials and ultimately out to cancer patients.

Please add anything else you think relevant. 

Connecting with consumer representatives has been such a positive and enriching experience. It has been a joy to connect with someone outside the laboratory-based research team and to gain new insights and to see the bigger picture. I have grown from this experience; the translation aspect of my drug development project has improved and my grant applications are more understandable to a wider audience. I now strongly encourage my colleagues to go and seek out a consumer voice for their projects both in cancer and other disease areas.