Expanding the personalised nature of palliative care

St Vincent’s has a long and proud history of providing excellent palliative care at all stages of a patient’s healthcare journey.

Contemporary palliative care is not only for those with malignant disease or those at the end of their life but also for people living with chronic life limiting disease, to ensure they can live well and have sufficient information to make informed choices about their care.

The St Vincent’s Palliative Care Service contributes to the body of knowledge by conducting a series of research projects to improve pain, symptom relief and how care is provided to patients and their family caregivers.

Palliative Care Clinical Trial Nurses Di Saward and Indy Khera
Palliative Care Clinical Trial Nurses Di Saward and Indy Khera

In one such project, researchers at St Vincent’s are investigating the genetics underpinning pain relief using opioid medications. Despite being prescribed for most patients in palliative care, there are many gaps in our knowledge about opioids. For example, who might benefit most and which opioid should be prescribed.

According to Study Lead, Prof Jennifer Philip, while opioids are highly effective, a group of people develop significant side effects such as nausea. This has led to the practice of ‘opioid switching’ to achieve effective pain relief with fewer side effects.

‘Currently there is no means of predicting who will get side effects and with which opioid drug,’ Jennifer said. ‘It is likely that our individual genetic differences account for much of this variation. This study is the first step to investigate these differences in palliative care cancer patients.’

The Opptic study will build a registry of detailed information (medications, doses, responses and side effects) linked with biological information which will include their genetic profile. This registry will set the foundation to allow researchers to map which drugs are best used for which people.

Palliative Care Clinical Trial Nurses Di Saward and Indy Khera are at the frontline of this study here at St Vincent’s, working with patients and clinicians to build the registry. The study has been funded by grants from St Vincent’s Research Endowment Fund and the Bethlehem Griffiths Research Foundation.

‘This is an exciting new era and there is much to learn, which has the potential to transform how we provide care for people with cancer,’ said Jennifer. ‘The capacity to tailor treatment based upon a person’s genetic profile is the next major step in medicine more broadly, but also in palliative care.’

For more information about the trial, please contact Study Trial Nurses Di Saward (di.saward@svha.org.au) or Indy Khera (indy.khera@svha.org.au

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