While 2016 was a big year for Dharmica Mistry, a young scientist from Sydney’s south, the next 12 months will be even more important.
Dr Mistry’s discovery that a simple blood test could be used to screen women for breast cancer led to her being named the 2016 NSW Young Woman of the Year.
Her work is due to be subjected to clinical trials in the community this year and, depending on the results, the test could be on the market as early as 2018.
Dr Mistry, 30, who is of Indian heritage, grew up in Jannali and attended Oyster Bay Public School and Gymea Technology High School.
Her achievement is being highlighted in the lead-up to the 2017 NSW Woman of the Year awards.
Nominations for this year’s awards close on Tuesday next week, January 10.
Minister for Women Pru Goward said there was still time for people “to celebrate a remarkable woman you know”.
Nominations can be made at: women.nsw.gov.au
Last year, two award recipients, including Dr Mistry and overall winner, Jennifer “Jen” Armstrong, of Grays Point, were from Sutherland Shire, which has also produced several previous winners.
Ms Armstrong founded a charity, The Beauty Bank, which distributes toiletries and basic beauty products to victims of domestic violence.
Ms Goward said women like Ms Armstrong and Dr Mistry showed finalists in the Woman of the Year awards were successful in vastly different fields but united in making a difference to the lives of those around them.
Dr Mistry, chief scientist at BCAL Diagnostics, told the Leader, professionally, the award “gave me encouragement to keep on doing what I have been trying to do in a difficult industry”.
She said the firm she worked for was a small start-up, and the support from government and the medical profession was important.
“Also, I have also been able to speak at events and encourage young people in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics],” she said.
“There are not as many young people in these professions.”
Dr Mistry said her firm was “gearing up” with key partners in Australia and hopefully the US to begin clinical trials later this year.
“We are looking to collect [blood samples] through the Sydney Breast Clinic and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital,” she said.
“Up till now, we have been doing this in a laboratory using human samples, but now it’s time to go into the community.
”We are very aware we have to prove ourselves in the medical community and that’s an important part of everything we are doing.
“We have kept the clinicians at the Sydney Breast Clinic and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital involved, and we hope to set up a scientific and medical advisory board to get feedback.
”We are basically taking all the professional steps to make sure we tick all the boxes.”
Cancer Council Australia's chief executive Professor Sanchia Aranda said there was “a long pathway” ahead.
“Obviously the holy grail of diagnostics is something like a blood test that can be very simply implemented,” Professor Aranda told the SBS program The Feed.
”The problem with scientific discovery is scientists get very excited about their discovery, but there is a long pathway before that could ever be the replacement.
“It would have to be assessed head to head against mammography screening to see whether or not it not only captures more cancers but those cancers are actually diagnosed earlier, and also that it alters mortality outcomes.”