Member Profile: Dr Susanna Park

30 May 2017
Susanna Park.JPG

Tell us a bit about yourself and your work.

I am currently working with the In FOCUS chemotherapy neuropathy research team, based at the Brain and Mind Centre with conjoint appointments at the Prince of Wales Clinical School and Neuroscience Research Australia. I have been working at the interface of clinical neuroscience and oncology for the past 10 years, focusing on nerve damage following chemotherapy treatment. Unfortunately, nerve damage is a very common side effect of many current cancer treatments. Nerve damage limits the amount of treatment that patients can receive and may unfortunately result in irreversible, long-term damage. Increasingly cancer treatment is being given as a preventative measure in patients with completely cured disease, who would otherwise have an excellent prognosis, potentially leaving these patients with life-long neurological symptoms including pain, numbness and difficulty walking. The mechanisms underlying this nerve damage are not understood and there are currently no established treatments or preventative strategies. Our research program aims to address this gap – determining the best ways to measure chemotherapy induced nerve damage, what the true impact of chemotherapy-induced nerve damage is and ultimately how to treat it. 

 Tell us about your most recent publication?  

We recently published a systematic review led by Dr Tejaswi Kandula looking at chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy in childhood cancer. There are some important differences between kids and adults in terms of nerve damage following chemotherapy treatment – and this review highlights these areas as well as indicating where there is a need for more evidence based research. Importantly we need to develop better tools to measure nerve damage from chemotherapy treatment in patients of different ages.

 Kandula T, Park SB, Cohn RJ, Krishnan AV, Farrar MA. (2016). Pediatric chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy: A systematic review of current knowledge. Cancer Treat Rev. 50: 118-128.

 What were the most important outcomes of your project/study?

Over the past 10 years, I have been very lucky to have established wide ranging multidisciplinary collaborations, which brings lots of different perspectives and approaches.  Our initial work in identifying a novel mechanism of neurotoxicity in oxaliplatin-treated patients 10 years ago has established the feasibility of collaborations between neurophysiology and oncology fields and provided the basis for further studies that we are now conducting.

 Tell us anything else you think would be relevant to our readership and promoting your research.

We are conducting an online survey of cancer survivors treated with chemotherapy (http://www.infocusstudy.org.au/survey/) to try to find out what the true burden and functional impact of this side effect on life after cancer treatment. We are still looking for more participants - anyone who has received potentially neurotoxic chemotherapy can be involved.