Our team

The HCRA team brings together an experienced group of research professionals with a diverse range of skills to support our mission.

The HCRA Operations Team: Melissa McEnallay, Ann Thomas, Susan Goode, Gemma Rabonu

Professor Steve Ackland


Professor Stephen Ackland is the Director of HCRA and a Medical Oncology Senior Staff Specialist at the Calvary Mater Newcastle. He has had a pivotal role in the organisation, harmonisation and enhancement of translational and clinical research on a local, state and national scale. Steve's research interests include basic and clinical pharmacology of anticancer drugs, including drug measurement, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, and relevant genetics/genomics.  He is also involved with clinical trials in cancer; particularly in medical oncology across the state.

In addition to providing leadership to HCRA, Steve is an inaugural member of the PRIMe consortium (Pharmocogenomics Research towards Individualised Medicine), Editor-in-Chief of the Asia-Pacific Journal of Clinical Oncology and a Director of Cancer Council NSW.


Email: Stephen.Ackland@newcastle.edu.au

Phone: 02 4014 3570

Laureate Professor Rodney Scott

Co-Deputy Director

Professor Rodney Scott is the Deputy Director of HCRA, Director of Molecular Medicine for Pathology North and Genetics Program Leader in the School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, University of Newcastle.

Rodney is an internationally recognised leader in cancer genetics. He is Chair of the HCRA Biomarker and Targeted Therapies Flagship Program Steering Committee, oversees the development and operation of the Hunter Cancer Biobank and represents HCRA on the Cancer Institute NSW Biobanking Stakeholder Network.


Email: Rodney.Scott@newcastle.edu.au

Phone: 02 4921 4974

Professor Chris Paul

Co-Deputy Director

A/Prof Chris Paul is an NHMRC Career Development Fellow with the School of Medicine and Public Health, Priority Research Centre for Cancer Research, Innovation and Translation and Hunter Medical Research Institute. Chris is a behavioural scientist with considerable experience in the development and evaluation of strategies for achieving behavioural change on an individual, system and population level. Her work spans preventive health issues and provision of patient care. Much of her early work was focused on cancer prevention and tobacco control, with an emphasis on the dissemination and adoption of effective behaviour change strategies. She retains a strong interest in cancer prevention and control, with a growing research portfolio relating to each of social disadvantage, chronic disease and health service delivery.

Chris has been a member of the HCRA Executive Committee since 2015 and has made significant contributions to the operational and strategic direction of HCRA as a translational cancer research centre.


Email: Chris.Paul@newcastle.edu.au

Phone: 02 4042 0693

Susan Goode

Centre Manager

Susan is responsible for the overall management of HCRA including supervision of operations staff and providing strategic support to the HCRA Executive and associated leadership committees. She oversees all projects and activities delivered by the HCRA team. Susan has over 10 years' experience of working in research roles within universities including building research capacity in the health workforce; seeking, applying for and managing research funds; establishing and fostering collaborations; events management and research/project management. In addition to her science qualifications and expertise, Susan has a Diploma of Business Management and is currently completing a Master of Philosophy by research.

Email: Susan.Goode@newcastle.edu.au

Phone: 02 4042 0855

Melissa McEnallay

Implementation Science Program Officer

Melissa is the Program Officer for the Implementation Science Flagship program of HCRA. Her role is to manage and support the initiatives of the flagship, including HCRA's participation in the Education in Implementation Science Community of Practice. Melissa has a background in program coordination and community engagement in the health sector and holds a BHealth (Macquarie University) and a MPH (University of Newcastle).

Email: Melissa.McEnallay@newcastle.edu.au

Phone: 02 4042 0857

Gemma Rabonu

Operations and Communications Officer

Gemma's role is to support the core activities and operational functions of the HCRA and develop and maintain a communications strategy. Gemma is the first point of contact (both internally and externally) for our members across our partnering institutions. In addition to providing operational support, Gemma maintains the HCRA Facebook and Twitter accounts. Gemma has a background in Marketing and Communications and holds a BCommunications (University of Newcastle).

Gemma  is in the HCRA office Monday to Friday, 9.00am - 3.00pm.

Email: Gemma.Rabonu@newcastle.edu.au

Phone: 02 4042 0862

Ann Thomas

Finance Officer

The Finance Officer is responsible for handling the financial side of HCRA Operations. Ann's role is to manage the finances for all HCRA operational and research budgets. Ann has a background in management accounting and financial analysis across the commercial and not-for-profit sectors.  Ann holds a B.Com (Finance) and MBA.

Email: HCRA-Finance@newcastle.edu.au

Phone: 02 4042 0856

Dr Anoop Enjeti


Dr Anoop Enjeti is a consultant haematologist with active research interests in Microparticles/ Microvesicles (MV) and leukemia. He is a current recipient of the HCRA Fellowship Grant that partly funds his research work. Dr Enjeti completed his training in Haematology in 2006-07. He is a principal investigator for two Phase I/II trials in acute leukemia/lymphoma at his site and is active in several cooperative group trials in acute leukemia. His vision to start investigator initiated Phase I trials in MDS/AML in Newcastle with locally development molecules which show promising in-vitro activity. He believes this and the associated research into genetics, epidemiology, transfusion science and psychosocial medicine will address a number of challenging issues for patients with acute leukemia. Read more..

Email: Anoop.Enjeti@calvarymater.org.au

View Dr Enjeti's ResearchGate profile here

2018 HCRA Clinical Research Scholars

Claire Jeans

Speech Pathologist, Department of Speech Pathology, Calvary Mater Newcastle

Claire Jeans graduated with a Bachelor of Speech Pathology from the University of Newcastle in 2011. Following graduation, she entered into full time clinical work and came to enjoy working with head and neck cancer patients during and post radiotherapy treatment. She also developed a keen interest in clinical research and commenced her PhD at the University of Queensland in 2015. Claire has presented at numerous national and international conferences over the last several years; and she will travel to the USA in March 2018 to present some of her preliminary results at the annual meeting of the Dysphagia Research Society. Claire also continues to work clinically as a speech pathologist at the Calvary Mater Newcastle. She hopes to continue to help head and neck cancer patients improve their swallow function and quality of life after radiotherapy treatment.

Claire's PhD research is investigating head and neck lymphoedema (or swelling) in head and neck cancer patients. It aims to examine the prevalence, risk factors and functional impact of head and neck lymphoedema on swallowing, voice and quality of life. This research is currently underway and Claire has recruited 110 patients to this research to date and hopes to finalise recruitment in mid-2018. Two main research designs are being utilised for this research: (1) a cross-sectional study design that recruits patients who are between 1-3 years post treatment; and (2) a prospective, longitudinal study design that recruits patients before they commence treatment and follows them for 12 months post treatment. Each participant is required to complete a nasendoscopy to assess internal lymphoedema (i.e. within the pharynx and larynx), a head and neck examination to assess external lymphoedema (i.e. on the face and neck), a swallowing assessment, a voice assessment, and a number of patient completed questionnaires. A qualitative study design was also utilised for this research. Patients who were a minimum of 3 months post treatment and were experiencing some form of head and neck lymphoedema were interviewed to determine their own personal experiences.

Research Supervisor
Professor Liz Ward

Joel Petit

Clinical Research Scholar, Department of Surgery, John Hunter Hospital

Dr Joel Petit undertook his first degree, Bachelor of Science (Chemistry) at Western Sydney University. Following this he undertook medical training at the University of Sydney, before spending his first 4 years of medical practice in Dubbo, where he worked as a Resident Medical Officer, Emergency Registrar, Paediatric Registrar and General Surgical Registrar. Joel then worked in Nepean Hospital before coming to Hunter New England Local Health District to continue his surgical training. In 2016, he completed a Masters of Medicine (Paediatric and Pain Medicine) through the University of Sydney and commenced his PhD in Medical Genetics in 2017.

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the most common cancer that affects both men and women in Australia. Approximately one third of patients diagnosed with the disease die from it within five years of diagnosis. Most of these deaths occur from metastatic disease due to the late stage of the disease at the time of diagnosis. The bowel cancer screening program in Australia increases the rate of early detection of CRC and pre-cancerous lesions. However, the current test uses faecal samples which limits the participation rates in the screening program.

Our hypothesis is that circulating cell-free DNA (cfDNA) in plasma, will be able to detect patients with CRC and pre-cancerous lesions. These fragments are known to occur in patients with CRC and other types of cancer. We aim to use digital droplet PCR to investigate and identify potential target genetic and epigenetic fragments that can be used as liquid biopsies.

The aims of this project are to:

  • Demonstrate the relationship between cfDNA levels and cancerous or pre-cancerous colorectal lesions.
  • Investigate the relationship between epigenetic methylation of cfDNA fragments and cancerous or pre-cancerous colorectal lesions.
  • Examine whether these blood-based genetic biomarkers can be used as diagnostic, prognostic or monitoring markers of CRC.

The experimental findings could have implications for how we diagnose and monitor colorectal cancer in Australia. This project also has the possibility to produce ongoing translational research into potential liquid-biopsies for other types of malignancies.

Researcher Supervisor
Laureate Professor Rodney Scott, Dr Peter Pockney, Dr Stephen Smith

2017 HCRA Clinical Research Scholars

Dr Merran Holmes

Clinical Research Scholar, Department of Surgery, John Hunter Hospital


Dr Merran Holmes graduated from the University of Newcastle in 2012 with a Bachelor of Medicine. She completed an internship and residency with HNE Health and continued as an SRMO/unaccredited registrar in General Surgery. She has completed a Masters of Science (Surgical Science) through the University of Edinburgh, graduating last year. She is currently working as a Clinical Research Fellow through the Department of Surgery, John Hunter Hospital.


'Prehabilitation for Major Upper GI Cancer Patients' The Prehab trial is primarily looking to investigate if a structured preoperative high intensity exercise program can improve a patient's fitness for major upper gastrointestinal cancer surgery, as determined by cardiopulmonary exercise testing, radiological and biochemical markers of muscle wasting, and nutrition scoring. This randomised controlled trial is looking to recruit 100 patients requiring major surgery for upper gastrointestinal cancers at the John Hunter Hospital and Newcastle Private Hospital. The patients will be randomised to either undergo a 4 week structured exercise program set and supervised by a physiotherapist or encouraged to undertake self directed exercise for a 4 week period ahead of operation. The trial will also investigate a number of secondary outcomes including; post-operative complications, length of stay, mortality and morbidity, and look to compare the roles of different biochemical and radiological markers in evaluating patient frailty and cardiopulmonary fitness.

Researcher Supervisor
Dr Vanessa Wills, Conjoint Senior Lecturer

Dr Georgia Carroll

General Surgical Registrar, Department of Surgery, John Hunter Hospital

Dr Georgia Carroll undertook her medical training at the University of New England, before returning home to spend her clinical years in Newcastle, where she has worked as a Resident Medical Officer and now as a General Surgical Registrar. She is currently mid-way through her Masters of Surgical Sciences (Edinburgh) and in 2017 has commenced her PhD.

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the commonest cancer that affects both men and women in Australia. Approximately one third of patients diagnosed with the disease die from it within five years of diagnosis. Most of these deaths occur from metastatic disease. Many of these cancers develop in patients who had no apparent metastatic disease when they were first treated with what is intended to be curative resection.

Our hypothesis is that inflammatory products (notably neutrophil extracellular traps [NETs]) are causal in metastatic disease and especially in the context of surgical sepsis, and that by inhibiting NETs, the rate of progression to metastatic disease will be reduced. We will use a mouse model for colorectal cancer to test these hypotheses. The aims of this project are to:
a)Demonstrate intrinsic interaction between circulating tumour cells and NETs formed in response to surgery and subsequent sepsis;
b) Demonstrate evidence of increased metastatic disease as a result of the inflammatory response to surgery and its complications in colorectal cancer;
c) Examine whether adjunct therapy targeting NETs and sepsis is sufficient to reduce metastasis arising from surgery.

If experimental findings are consistent with our hypotheses, it would have implications for how we treat colorectal cancer, and may translate to treatment of many other malignancies.

Researcher Supervisor

Dr Simon Keely, Dr Andrea Mathe, Dr Peter Pockney, Dr Stephen Smith

Dr Asma Ashraf

Haematologist Staff Specialist, Department of Haematology, Calvary Mater Hospital


Dr Asma Ashraf completed her training in haematology in 2016 and received FRACP and FRCPA . She is currently working as haematologist staff specialist at Calvary Mater Hospital, Newcastle. She is currently also enrolled in Masters by Research at the University of Newcastle as well as enrolled in Speciality Certificate in Clinical Research at University of Melbourne. Dr Ashraf's research interests include primary bone marrow disorders in adults, transfusion medicine and rationalisation of blood product usage as well as impact of haematological cancers and treatments into quality of life of patients. She is involved in collaborations with various researchers from University of Oxford (UK), University of Newcastle, and Cardiology Department at John Hunter hospital.

My current projects are about looking into changes in the blood transfusion patterns in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome who are on hypomethylating agents (azacitidine) as well as looking into their overall survival. It also involves assessing the impact of platelet transfusions on the quality of the life of patients with primary bone marrow disorders. The utilisation of platelets is steadily increasing in Australia. With the increasing use of platelets it is important to assess if our current practice has impact on the quality of life of patients for patient centred approach. It will help us in future to tailor guidelines as well as give direction to future trials. The result of these projects will help to design randomised trial in future in patients with primary bone marrow disorders.

Researcher Supervisor
Dr Anoop Enjeti, Dr Milton Hasnat, Dr Mark McEvoy

Sarah Nielsen

Senior Biobank Technician

Sarah is the Senior Biobank Technician for the Hunter Cancer Biobank. Her role is to provide high quality annotated specimens and clinical data to scientists to support their research projects. Sarah enjoys working as part of a busy multidisciplinary team in field as crucial as cancer research.

Sarah has over 16 years' experience working in diagnostic and research pathology laboratories and holds a Bachelor Degree in Science (Biology).

Email: Sarah.Nielsen@hnehealth.nsw.gov.au

The University of Newcastle, Australia Hunter New England Local Health District Calvary Mater Newcastle Hunter Medical Research Institute Cancer Institute NSW