Our People

Rachel Neale

Professor | Group Leader | Deputy Coordinator of the Population Health Department

Cancer Aetiology & Prevention

+61 7 3845 3598

rachel.neale@qimrberghofer.edu.au

 

CAREER HISTORY

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.

 

CURRENT APPOINTMENTS

  • Group Leader, Cancer Aetiology and Prevention
  • Deputy Coordinator, Population Health Department
  • Adjunct Professor, University of Queensland
  • Adjunct Professor, Queensland University of Technology

 

ORCID NUMBER

0000-0001-7162-0854

 

CURRENT AREA OF RESEARCH

  • The Queensland Pancreatic Cancer Study: this case-control study collected data and samples from over 700 cases and controls. This dataset is now making a considerable contribution to an international consortium, The Pancreatic Cancer Case-Control Consortium, which aims to identify genetic and environmental risk factors for pancreatic cancer, and the ways in which these interact
  • Pancreatic Cancer Patterns of Care Study: Professor Neale completed Australia’s largest study of the variability in care of patients with pancreatic cancer, highlighting the challenges faced by people not living in major metropolitan areas. She now works collaboratively with scientists from Monash University to establish a quality of care register in Victoria and NSW. An NHMRC-funded project nested within the registry aims to provide information to medical providers to facilitate change in practice
  • supporting families with pancreatic cancer: 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 leading a MRFF-funded 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
  • using linked data to identify population groups at high risk of pancreatic cancer: 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
  • 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
  • balancing the risks and benefits of sun exposure: The sun has both risks and benefits for health; identifying the optimal approach to manage this balance is challenging. Professor Neale’s work focuses on understanding the attitudes of clinicians and general practitioners to this issue, and modelling to determine the optimal amount of sun exposure to avoid vitamin D deficiency while minimising risk of skin cancer.

 

RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS

  • 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

 

PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHIPS

  • Register 4 access committee
  • Victorian Upper Gastrointestinal Clinical Quality Registry Advisory Panel
  • United Nations Environmental Effects Assessment Panel (leader of health working group and panel co-secretary)
  • Australasian Epidemiological Association 
  • Public Health Association of Australia

 

EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND

  • PhD, University of Queensland
  • BVSc, University of Queensland