Stem cell transplants for Gold Coast


Health Minister Cameron Dick at the Gold Coast University Hospital to check out the new s

Health Minister Cameron Dick at the Gold Coast University Hospital to check out the new stem cell technology that will start helping patients next week. The minister is with Dr Tara Cochrane and scientist Kathryn McKell with the storage tanks. Photo: Kit Wise Source: News Limited

A NEW stem cell transplant service will begin at the Gold Coast University Hospital next week, saving up to 50 cancer patients from stressful week-long trips to Brisbane for treatment.

Gold Coast Health has invested about $400,000 in specialist equipment and committed $1.35 million in annual funding to the service to help patients with myeloma and lymphoma.

Health Minister Cameron Dick inspected the new facility yesterday, congratulating staff on delivering a service which he said “would make a huge difference to the lives of so many people”.

“This service has an enormous benefits, not just for patients but for families and the clinical staff who work here,” Mr Dick said.

“They can turn around the testing in a much faster way now. It’s important for patients that treatment can start sooner.



“Whereas these patients would have previously had to spend up to a week relocating or travelling to Brisbane each day for treatment, they will now be able to access quality care close to home and loved ones.”

Scientist Kathryn McKell, Dr Tara Cochrane and Health Minister Cameron Dick. Photo: Kit W

Scientist Kathryn McKell, Dr Tara Cochrane and Health Minister Cameron Dick. Photo: Kit Wise Source: News Limited


Nicholas McKeough, the hospital’s stem cell treatment clinical nurse consultant, expects the service will help up to 50 patients in its first year, many of them older than 60 years.

“The Coast’s ageing population is growing faster than Brisbane — we’re a grey nomad area,” he said.

“This service is probably evolving with those population demographics.”

About 3000 Coast residents are diagnosed each year with a cancer or malignancy and those patients suitable for a stem cell transplant will be referred to the service by their doctor.

Mr McKeough explained that a patient’s cancer was not always curable but stem-cell transplants “may give you a long remission without chemotherapy” for up to a decade while scientists find new solutions.

Nicholas McKeough Photo: Kit Wise

Nicholas McKeough Photo: Kit Wise Source: News Corp Australia


A stem-cell transplant freezes a patient’s good stem cells before they start long-term chemotherapy and returns them after treatment.

“We need to mobilise the stem cells with chemotherapy,” Mr McKeough said.

“They have a dose of chemotherapy which helps the cells then rebound back out into the peripheral blood.

“Following that, we put them on to the machine to collect them.”

Patients would recover for a month before returning to the hospital for a much larger dose of chemotherapy, he said.

“And that dose is sufficient that if we didn’t give them stem cells, their marrow wouldn’t recover and it could take months and months and there is a potential realistically that they die,” Mr McKeough said.

“So the reinfusion of the stem cells is seen to rescue them from that … and then we nurse them through a three-week, in-hospital patient stay followed by a three to six month recovery.”

Gold Coast Health cancer, access and support services clinical director Dr Jeremy Wellwood said the hospital had spent the past year recruiting staff for what would be one of the leading cancer treatment services in Queensland.

One of the machines which determines the timing of stem-cell transplants was already being used to diagnose leukaemia, he said.

“Whereas samples had to previously sent to Brisbane for testing and results returned the next day, dozens of patients are now able to receive their diagnosis immediately,” Dr Wellwood said.