Going to the ends of the earth to cure melanoma
Dr Mark Shackleton is on a journey that parallels, at least in terms of difficulty, another Shackleton’s famous, life-affirming quest in Antarctica: he is trying to cure cancer. Melanoma, to be specific.
In 2010, the doctor-turned-scientist returned to the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre from the University of Michigan, where he was developing cutting-edge techniques in melanoma biology. Being from Melbourne, Mark always held out hope of returning to the city with his wife Kylie, who also works in cancer research, to join a research facility keen on supporting his work.
He was awarded a veski innovation fellowship in the same year and now finds himself as Group Leader of Peter Mac’s Melanoma Research Laboratory.
“In reality,” Mark says, “I’m also a medical oncologist at Peter Mac, looking after melanoma patients, so the environment provides a rich mix, including clinical work that feeds into my lab program, collectively shedding light on the mechanisms that drive this most deadly of cancers”.
Mark says melanoma is Australia’s cancer because we have the highest rates in the world. It is the fourth most common cancer here, and most common among young people.
“We live in a sunny climate and a lot of us are descendants of Northern Europeans with fair skin: a perfect storm for melanoma. The social and economic impact of melanoma is even higher than its incidence because of the tendency to affect young people, who lose years of potentially productive, tax-paying life to the disease,” he says.
Having been a veski innovation fellow for four years, Mark cites one of the key benefits of the role as having Victoria’s “scientific network opened up for him by veski”. He had trained in Melbourne and therefore had contacts around town from his time at the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. However, coming back to the country as a senior scientist running a research program, he had a limited idea of the wider scientific community.
“veski has been a key to meeting leading scientists and has provided a forum for engaging them,” he says.
“I really value the catch-ups at veski functions with up-and-coming scientists.
“A good proportion of veski innovation fellows will be tomorrow’s scientific leaders in the state, so it’s great to develop relationships with them and exchange ideas. They are a seriously talented bunch”.
Outside of work, Mark and his wife are focused on “making opportunities for our daughters, Ashleigh and Abigail to become the best people they can be”.
When he was five, his grandmother asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up, and he replied, “I am going to cure cancer,” much to the amusement of his family.
A former competitive rower, Mark remains active, enjoying walking and riding on the Williamstown foreshore.
He also enjoys reading classic and modern literature, but he says his hobbies have been mostly put to the wayside to support his family.
“My daughters compete in calisthenics competitions, so I have been known to turn my hand to sequinning.”