Spotlight on Dr Christina Signorelli, PHD, Post-doctoral research fellow at Sydney Children’s Hospital/University of NSW


In 2018, Neuroblastoma Australia agreed to help fund the first ever Australian database which will capture data on the “late effects” of childhood cancer treatments on survivors.

Lucy Jones, President of Neuroblastoma, explained; “Currently treatments are only effective in around 50% of cases of children diagnosed with aggressive neuroblastoma and they have to be improved. At the same time treatments need to be made less toxic and damaging for children. We understand a third of the survivors have long term side effects from their treatment and we need to ensure new treatments are developed which are safer and more effective. Establishing a database is key to understanding the current late affects better and it will then be possible to track any changes brought about by new treatments or any changes to protocol.”

The research project is being run by Dr Christina Signorelli and is called ‘Improving the long-term health of Australian childhood cancer survivors.’

We asked Christina about the progress of this project and her life as a scientist dedicated to helping lives through research.

1.How did you get involved in this research project? 

I have been a researcher at the Behavioural Sciences Unit, Kids Cancer Centre, for over five years. During this time, I have been involved in a large body of work examining Australian childhood cancer survivors’ physical and mental health, and have been developing a model of care to reduce survivors’ risk of chronic health problems in survivorship. Extending on from this work, the natural next step was to develop a national childhood cancer database, to investigate the long-term health risks associated with cancer and its treatments. 

2. Who will be included in the database? 

Initially, we are focusing on identifying patients and survivors who have been diagnosed with Neuroblastoma. In the coming years, we aim to expand this database to include all childhood cancer patients and survivors. Our current efforts have been focused on identifying patients who were treated at Sydney Children’s Hospital, and in the coming months we hope to involve other centres state-wide. In the future, we hope to expand the database to other treatment centres across Australia. 

3. How difficult will it be to collect the information? 

Perhaps the greatest challenge of developing a database of this kind is that every treatment centre collects and manages patient data differently, which could delay the identification of the whole cohort or result in slightly different data for different groups of patients. Our team are prepared for challenges such as this and have measures in place to ensure minimal impact on the value of the research project. As a collaborative initiative, the support of key stakeholders from other centres is also critical to the success of the study emphasising the importance of our existing relationships in the clinical and scientific communities across Australia. 

4. What do you hope will be the outcome? How will this database help improve the long-term health of Australian childhood cancer survivors?

The data that we collect in this database will not only allow us to investigate the physical and emotional health complications that patients have experienced, but also offers an opportunity to collect ongoing data to look at trends over time as treatments change and as survivors grow older. These data will also be used to identify the needs of different subgroups who might be at higher risk of certain health complications compared to other groups. Ultimately, the wealth of information collected in this database will be used to help us create resources and interventions to manage the impact of treatment-related conditions in survivors, and inform future treatment protocols to prevent some of these conditions altogether. 

5. How have similar databases in other countries proved to be beneficial? 

Similar databases such as the US Childhood Cancer Survivor Study and the British Childhood Cancer Survivor Study have helped to identify long-term treatment-related health problems and to understand why some survivors are at higher risk of developing certain health problems than others. We have learned so much from similar databases which have been developed internationally. It is critical that we now collect data on Australian patients, given that they may face unique challenges to their international peers, and to propel Australian childhood cancer survivorship into the future. 

6. What do you enjoy most about your work? 

It is incredibly touching to learn about the diverse experiences of young people and their families, who have been impacted by childhood cancer. These stories motivate me on a daily basis to continue to find ways to reduce the long-term burden of cancer, and to do my part to help survivors to live full, healthy and happy lives. It’s inspiring to be able to do this alongside such a wonderful, and multidisciplinary, team of clinicians, allied health professionals and researchers who are passionate about reducing the burden of childhood cancers like Neuroblastoma on patients and their families. 

7. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

When I’m not working, I’m an avid reader and am a self-confessed ‘foodie’. I love baking, discovering hidden gems to eat at, and experiencing new cuisines. Having been born and raised in Sydney, I have always had the travel-bug and have been fortunate enough to have travelled widely including parts of Asia, North America, Europe and the Middle East. Most notably, I learned about my own families’ roots when visiting the heart of Sicily, and also traversed the villages of Lebanon where my husband’s family are from. With this worldly experience, and as a soon-to-be first time mum, my eyes are even more open to the potentially devastating impact that a childhood cancer diagnosis can have on the patient and the whole family unit and the importance of the research that I am a part of.

Find out more about this Research Project here