Keeping things simple earns ANU researcher top award

Tom Gibbs at his graduation on Wednesday, December 13, 2023.

Tom Gibbs at his graduation, after being named the undergraduate student volunteer of the year.

Facing cancer and other serious illnesses can be traumatic enough on its own, but trying to digest and decipher the information as it is told to you can be a huge hurdle for patients.  

Tom Gibbs, who graduated with a BMedSci (Honours) at The Australian National University (ANU) last week, recognised this and began volunteering at North Canberra Hospital, providing patients with support and clinical assistance. 

“I started out volunteering with St John Ambulance here in the ACT as a practical outlet for the great scientific knowledge that ANU provided me during my undergraduate studies,” Mr Gibbs said. 

“From there it blossomed into a broader passion for healthcare volunteering… and really just any voluntary position that allowed me to interact with patients one on one, break down their pathologies in Leyman's terms and bring them a degree of comfort when they're in turmoil and distress.” 

His volunteer work culminated with him being named the 2023 ANU Student Volunteer of the Year (Undergraduate). 

In his research at the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR), Mr Gibbs focused on oncology and cancer therapy, exploring a new novel cancer drug for the treatment of glioblastoma - a very aggressive brain cancer variant. 

Mr Gibbs and the team at the Hannan Group at JCSMR set about investigating whether the drug would be a viable option in neuro-oncological applications. 

“During my research, we found that it may be a theoretically viable option that could really benefit people going forward,” Mr Gibbs said.  

“The next step is for my lab group to take the results that I’ve obtained and build on them, to explore the broader mechanisms of the drug and potentially enter it into a Phase 1 clinical trial to see if it does translate to clinical benefit – and hopefully it does.” 

Mr Gibbs said his research was spurred on by personal experiences. 

“I had family members and friends who have been touched by this really malevolent disease, and having done the research, it really tied into my voluntary experience at the hospital as well.  

“Having spent time on oncology and palliative care wards both here and interstate, and seeing the real-world potential for the compounds and drugs that are developed in a research setting, and their translatability into a real-world benefit really gave me drive to continue my work.” 

Mr Gibbs said his time at JCSMR had been hugely satisfying, both in research and in a personal capacity. 

He said it was a fantastic fostering environment, with great support from across the school. 

"The thing that I was impressed by – and appreciated the most day-to-day – was the fact you could knock on any academic’s door – world leaders in their respective fields – and ask them any question you might have had, either experimentally or personally, they were always willing to answer,” Mr Gibbs said.  

“And you would always come out of those meetings ten times more confident and ready for the next day, than you were when you went in.”