Cancer Breakthrough? – A Doctor’s Extraordinary Journey

The next public forum hosted by local think-tank the Newcastle Institute will be very special.

Three years ago Dr Rhys Thomas was commencing his career as an Anaesthetist in Newcastle.  He had completed the difficult years of specialist training, and was planning to spend more time with his young family, as well as working as an anaesthetist in both Newcastle and in overseas aid hospitals.  His life was shattered when he was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma that had already spread through his body.  He and his treating Doctors – who were his own friends and colleagues – knew that his life expectancy, even with treatment, was a few months.

Just as the diagnosis was made, a new class of cancer drugs, that work through immunotherapy, became available.  Based on years of basic science research, these drugs are now undergoing clinical trials, including in Newcastle.  It is still early days, but for some patients, and for some cancers, the results are extraordinarily successful.

This is one of the most dramatic steps forward in cancer treatment in decades.
Some have described this breakthrough as a ‘Penicillin moment’.

For Rhys Thomas, after a difficult two-year journey, his cancer appears to be controlled.  He is now ready to tell his story.

This is a story of both emotion and science.  Dr Fiona Abell, Director of the Melanoma Unit at the Calvary Mater Hospital, will explain the science behind these breakthrough drugs and give an overview of the early research findings.  She will also discuss some of the other promising new drugs that are ‘in the pipeline’, which may also revolutionise the treatment of other cancers.

The evening is open to the general public, and will include time for questions and discussion.

Drug Myths and Realities: Medical Marijuana, and Ice

The next public forum hosted by local think-tank the Newcastle Institute will look beyond the hype, and consider the facts, about two types of drugs.

Every week there seem to be a new story claiming that marijuana has benefits in a wide variety of diseases, and should be legalised for medical use.  Already the State Government is responding to community pressure, and changing the law.

But what is the reality?  Professor Jennifer Martin, the Doctor leading a team of researchers at Newcastle University studying medical use of marijuana, will speak at the public forum. Looking at the science, she is sceptical.  “There seems to be a sudden rush to make it available, as if the evidence to use it was newly available and overwhelmingly good. Sadly, none of this is a reality”, she says.

Professor Martin will talk about the research currently being undertaken. “It is possible that we will find some extract from the plant with benefits for some specific medical conditions.  But this will take time.”

She is also concerned about over-enthusiastic promotion of unconventional therapies.  “It may lead to unrealistic hopes that are then dashed.  Worse, it may divert patients from evidence-based therapies that may have less mystique and glamour, but have been shown to work.”

Still on the theme of drugs, the Forum will also hear from Dr Tarun Yadav, a psychiatrist working with Hunter New England Health, about the myths and realities of the ‘Ice Epidemic’.  How bad is the epidemic?  And just how bad is Ice, compared to previous drug epidemics, such as Cocaine or Heroin? What are the myths, and what are the facts?

The forum is open to the interested public, and there will be plenty of time for questions and discussion. There is no need to book.  We request a $5 donation on entry to assist us to cover venue hire costs.

What?     Public Forum:-  Drug Myths and Realities:-  Medical Marijuana and Ice
When?    6.00 – 7.30pm, Wednesday 17th August 2016
Where?  Souths Leagues Club, Merewether
Who?      Open to the general public. Admission $5 donation

Medical Marijuana, the ICE Epidemic – Fact and Fiction

The next forum of the Newcastle Institute, at 6pm August 17th at Souths Newcastle, will feature local experts on two very different drugs issues that are currently ‘hot topics’.

Newcastle University’s Professor Jenny Martin is leading a national research program based at Calvary Mater Hospital looking at possible uses of Marijuana for medical purposes.  There are many stories in the media – and on the internet – claiming benefits for the terminally ill, for cancer, for epilepsy and many other conditions.  But is this just wishful thinking?  What are the facts?

Meanwhile, there seems to be a growing ICE epidemic, particularly in the Hunter region.  Is this just media hype and fear?  Just how big is the problem? Is the drug as addictive and dangerous as portrayed? The forum will hear the facts from the Medical experts who deal with the problem every day.

Separating Facts from Fiction about two big drug issues – at the Newcastle Institute.

As always, all thinking members of the general public are welcome, and there will be plenty of time for discussion.

Engaging presentation

Tonight’s presentation by Professor James Curran was a fascinating look at the past, present and possible futures for the Australian relationship with the USA.  James’ insight into a range of issues led to an excellent presentation and some thought provoking and insightful questions and answers from the audience.  Many thanks to our audience this evening and to James for his presentation.

Coming up in August, on Wednesday 17th, the Newcastle Institute will be hosting a discussion about the current trial of medical marijuana being undertaken at Newcastle University.  The program will then also look at the issue that we hear a great deal about to the point where it is often described as ‘the ice epidemic.’

More information will be sent out closer to the event via our email list, Facebook page and here on the website. If you don’t currently get email from the Newcastle Institute then please use the link at the right to add your email address.


Do we need to say No to America?

We are sure all our subscribers will be relieved to know that the next public forum of the Newcastle Institute will NOT deal with the dramas arising from the federal election.  Instead, we are looking to Australia’s future directions in our international relations.

Our next speaker is James Curran, Professor of History at Sydney University, with previous senior positions in the Department of Prime Minister and with the Lowy Institute.  He argues that while Australia must maintain the strength of our alliance with the US, we must be prepared to say ‘no’ at times for this alliance to be an effective one. There is increasing tension in the South China Sea and in Korea, and increasing importance of our relationships with China, India and Indonesia. The simple certainties of the Cold War era are long gone, with new complexities of international politics.  This will be reflected in Professor Curran’s analysis.

NOTE the next forum is on Wednesday 20th (a week later than usual due to State of Origin), and back at Souths Leagues Club at 6pm


Wednesday 20 July, 2016

Souths Leagues Club

Llewellyn Street, Merewether.


Public Forum – Federal election: Hunter Senate candidates forum

Newcastle voters will have a rare chance to have an “up close and personal” look at senate candidates for the next federal election on the evening of the 21st June  at the Newcastle City Hall.

Local, independent think tank The Newcastle Institute will be hosting a public forum featuring senators representing all four parties in the senate – Labor, Liberal/National, Greens and the Liberal Democrats. The forum will be run as an “old fashioned” public meeting, making it a unique event for NSW.

The party representatives are Senators Deborah O’Neill (Labor), Lee Rhiannon (Greens), David Leyonhjelm (Liberal Democrats), and Senate candidate Hollie Hughes (Liberal/National).

The MC for the night will be Dr Bernie Curran, one of the patrons of the Newcastle institute.

Senators will be quizzed by a broad panel representing media, business, unions, and community groups. In the week before the forum, the public will be invited to submit questions for the panel.

It is sometimes said that many voters feel that the Hunter is ignored by the political parties in elections because of its many safe seats in the Lower House but in the Senate, every vote across the state counts.

This Newcastle Institute forum is a chance for the people of the Hunter, in any seat, to show the importance of the region in the senate vote.Previous Newcastle Institute forums before State, Federal and Local Government elections have been regarded as high quality, well organised, and fair to all candidates..

The meeting is open to all citizens who are interested in obtaining the best result for Newcastle and the Hunter region in the Senate elections.

A $10 donation at the door to cover costs is appreciated. Newcastle Institute is a not for profit organisation.

What: Newcastle Institute Public Forum – Federal election: Hunter Senate candidates forum

When: June 21, 2016 at 7pm-9pm

Where: Newcastle City Hall

May at the Newcastle Institute

Did you hear that Uber  launched its ride sharing service in Newcastle only a couple of weeks ago?  This is just one of the trends in transport which make us think about the future of cars and the expectations that people may have about car ownership and, simply, getting around.  More on that later.

The last Newcastle Institute Forum on April 13th was particularly well attended, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed Professor Michael Ondaatje’s expert discussion of the US politics and elections.  For those not there, he discussed the rising influence of ‘Fear and Frustration’ in US politics (which is also notable in Australia).  He bravely predicted that Donald Trump would win either win the Republican nomination, or stand as an independent and split the Republican vote.  The Republican party has become dominated by ‘angry old white men’ and it faces a demographic challenge with the rise of the Hispanic population.  He noted that voter sentiment towards Obama’s Presidency has been improving.  He concluded that these combined influences made the Democrats likely winners.

The next Newcastle Institute forum on May 11th will feature Kyle Loades, CEO of the NRMA, and Garry Ellem of Newcastle University’s Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment.  The topic will be ‘The future of cars’ and includes discussion of the massive changes looming in the way we use and own cars and other transport systems.  Uber; Go-get hire; Car-pooling services; Autonomous vehicles; Self-driving cars; new mass transit systems, and the influence of all these factors on the development of our cities.

Wednesday 11th May 6pm at Souths Leagues Club, Llwellyn street, Merewether.    Everybody is welcome at our events.  We simply request a small donation to cover or costs.

Future meetings:

8th June – Cyber Security and state-sponsored cyber crime

April 13th: The US Presidential Election

Our April event should be a fascinating look at the political landscape in the USA. Michael Ondaatje, nationally recognised expert and media commentator on US politics will analyse what is going on in the US election;  not just Trump and Clinton, but Cruz and Sanders.  Michael will also examine the significance for US politics in the longer run; and how it may affect Australia.

michael ondaatjeA former academic at the University of Newcastle, Associate Professor Michael Ondaatje is now the National Head of Arts with the Faculty of Arts at the Australian Catholic University.  Michael Ondaatje has always been a popular speaker at the Newcastle Institute and we look forward to this one with much anticipation.

The event will run from 6pm at Souths Leagues Club in Llewellyn Street Merewether.  Pre-booking is not required and we simply  request a small donation on entry to cover our costs.