TCRN Travel story | Briana Clifford 2017 R1 Conference Grant

14 August 2017
ACSM_B.Clifford Nexus Travel

Brianna Clifford has attended the American College of Sports Medicine (ASCM) Annual Scientific Meeting in an effort to understand more about how to ensure the research has a tangible impact on the quality of life for cancer survivors "The translational potential of our research is in the clinical application of exercise to manage chronic pain in cancer survivors."


Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your research?

I am a third year PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales and an Accredited Exercise Physiologist. In my final years of undergraduate study, I had a particular interest in the role of exercise in the management and care of cancer patients and survivors and decided to pursue a career in research in this area. The main topic of my research aims to investigate the effect of exercise on systemic inflammation in cancer survivors and a range of other outcomes associated with increased systemic inflammation such as reduced quality of life and increased pain sensitivity.


Could you tell us about the conference you went to and why you chose to attend this conference?

The conference I attended was the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Annual Scientific Meeting. It is one of the largest Sports medicine and exercise science meetings in the world which hosts around 6000 exercise scientists from around the globe. Currently, in Australia, we follow the ACSM guidelines regarding prescription of exercise for cancer patients and survivors and the conference hosted some of the most renowned researchers in the exercise-oncology field. I valued the opportunity to attend a meeting which showcased some of the most current research affecting cancer patients and survivors, as well as the continued research into the role that exercise can play in the management of cancer survivor’s health.


What would be the most important outcomes of the conference for you – key learnings, or people you met, new collaboration, etc.

I became a part of the Cancer Special Interest Group which hosts a focussed forum for discussion and collaboration amongst exercise -oncology researchers. Meeting fellow members of this group has laid the groundwork for the opportunity for collaborations in the future.


Could you tell us about your presentation at the conference?

My presentation was a thematic poster presentation which involved a 3-hour session with 8 posters of a similar research area. Each presenter had the opportunity to give a 5-minute oral presentation about their research and a 10-minute facilitated discussion followed. I presented some preliminary data looking at the analgesic effect of exercise in cancer survivors. Chronic pain of varying origins is experienced by potentially greater than 50% of cancer survivors. It is associated with reduced physical function and reduced health-related quality of life, and is a significant barrier to initiating and continuing exercise for cancer survivors.  Exercise, particularly aerobic exercise (e.g. cycling), has been shown to have an acute analgesic effect demonstrated by a reduction in subjectively reported pain, or an increase in pain thresholds, for 10 to 30 minutes immediately following exercise.  The analgesic effect of exercise has been well demonstrated in healthy populations as well as some chronic diseases, but has not yet been investigated for cancer survivors. The aim of the current study is to investigate if cancer survivors experience an analgesic response to an acute bout of exercise, and if this response changes after repeated exercise sessions. We measured pain thresholds using an algometer which is a small mechanical device used to apply pressure to points around the body to determine pain thresholds. We found that pressure pain thresholds increase after an acute bout of exercise and the effect of exercise was larger after a short period of exercise training (2 weeks). Our current sample size is small, and so we are continuing recruitment to confirm the results of this preliminary analysis.


What was the new knowledge or strategies from the conference you found interesting and possibly valuable to share with other TCRN members?

Dr Karen Mustian from the University of Rochester presented briefly about a novel biomarker indicative of muscle degradation, myosin light chain 5 (MYL5), its potential role in cancer related fatigue and the potentially protective effects of exercise. Dr Mustian has since published some findings in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (link below) 

How can your research translate into improvements in patient care and clinical outcomes (Translational relevance)?

The translational potential of our research is in the clinical application of exercise to manage chronic pain in cancer survivors. Currently, exercise is recommended for cancer survivors for its many health benefits, however exercise is not necessarily used as a management strategy for chronic pain in this population. The results provide information surrounding the effect of acute exercise on pain thresholds and the impact this could have on cancer survivors suffering from treatment related chronic pain.

Could you tell us about your membership with the TCRN – what’s your involvement, how long have you been a member etc.?

I am a new member of the TCRN as of December 2016 and am a part of the National Centre for Cancer Survivorship as a PhD student.


You received funding to attend the conference – could you tell us about the difficulties of obtaining funding for these sorts of activities and how the TCRN fills a need?

Funding for scientific research has seen a worrying decline in recent years. This decline in funding has been felt in all areas of the research experience and getting funding to attend conferences and scientific meetings has also become increasingly difficult. As a PhD student, the opportunity to attend meetings is invaluable. It provides an opportunity to present work, as well as meet active researchers in the field which provides opportunities for collaboration and the TCRN research travel grant provides opportunities for this to continue even in this challenging funding environment. Secondly, as a full-time student, this grant provides financial help to attend these conferences which would otherwise not be feasible.