Professor Rachel Neale completed a Bachelor of Veterinary Science at the University of Queensland and spent a short time in clinical practice, before deciding that her heart lay in science and research. She completed a PhD in skin cancer prevention at the QIMR Berghofer. Professor Neale then obtained an NHMRC Sidney Sax Fellowship which enabled her to spend two years at the University of Oxford. This enabled her to play a vital role in an international consortium studying the effects of human papilloma virus on the development of cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma.
Upon returning to Australia, Professor Neale established a program of research into pancreatic cancer, and later into vitamin D. In light of her knowledge of both skin cancer and vitamin D she is able to contribute to policy discussions about balancing the risks and benefits of sun exposure; she leads the health working group for the United Nations Environmental Effects Assessment Panel which reports to the parties to the Montreal Protocol. Professor Neale is the deputy coordinator of the population health department and holds adjunct appointments at the Queensland University of Technology and University of Queensland.
Group Leader, Cancer Aetiology and Prevention
Deputy Coordinator, Population Health Department
Adjunct Professor, University of Queensland
Adjunct Professor, Queensland University of Technology
Pancreatic cancer decision support guidelines: in 2020, Professor Neale completed the development of guidelines to support primary care practitioners in determining which patients should undergo investigation for pancreatic cancer. Click here to access the current guidelines.
Pathways Study: this study aims to understand the extent, causes, and consequences of delayed pancreatic cancer diagnosis. It will inform the validation and dissemination of decision support guidelines developed by Professor Neale and collaborating clinicians. Recruitment into the pathways study is open to Australians who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the last 6 months. More information about the study is available here.
Panlink Study: using linked data to identify population groups at high risk of pancreatic cancer and understand variability in management. Professor Neale’s team are using a national linked dataset, focussed particularly on the risk of pancreatic cancer in people newly diagnosed with diabetes, with the aim of identifying a subgroup of the population among whom screening might lead to earlier diagnosis and improved outcomes. They will also use the data to identify factors that influence the type of care patients receive.
PRoCESS Trial: Professor Neale’s formative work showed the very high levels of distress experienced by families faced with a pancreatic cancer diagnosis. A pilot study conducted in collaboration with the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital showed that a nurse-led telehealth counselling intervention was both feasible and acceptable. Her group is now collaborating on a QIMR-led randomised-controlled trial of a counselling service for caregivers; if this shows improved outcomes for these families, Professor Neale anticipates this becoming routinely available in the future.
D-Health Trial: Professor Neale leads the world’s second-largest trial of high-dose vitamin D supplementation, the D-Health Trial. D-Health aims to determine whether vitamin D supplementation influences mortality rate, cancer, cardiovascular disease and a range of other outcomes such as cognition, mood, pain, falls, fractures, osteoporosis, infection, telomere length and the microbiome. Between 2014 and mid-2015 we enrolled 21315 participants and randomised them to 60,000 IU vitamin D per month or placebo, with a planned intervention period for each person for 5 years. All participants have now completed the intervention phase and data analysis is ongoing.
Sun-D Trial: Exposing the skin to the sun causes skin cancer but also leads to vitamin D production. Regular sunscreen application is advised to reduce the risk of skin cancer, but there are concerns that this might lead to vitamin D deficiency. The NHMRC-funded Sun-D Trial aims to determine if regular application of SPF 50+ sunscreen on all days when the UV index is forecast to reach 3 causes lower vitamin D in the blood. More information can be found here
generating findings to suggest that infection with HPV influences risk of skin cancer
Identifying new genetic risk factors for pancreatic cancer, in collaboration with an international consortium
documenting the proportion of cancers in Australia attributable to modifiable risk factors
demonstrating the variability in care of pancreatic cancer care in Australia and the need for new referral pathways to ensure all patients receive optimal care
changing sunscreen advice for Australians and New Zealanders, from advising use only during planned outdoors activities to advising routinely daily use when the UV index is three or greater
highlighting population concern about vitamin D and the impact of this on sun protection behaviours