Past student, Manuri Gunawardena (2010), returns to Brisbane later this month to share her experience of transforming patient access to potentially life-saving medical treatment.
After graduating from BGGS, Ms Gunawardena commenced a Bachelor of Medical Studies/Doctor of Medicine at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). While working at the neuro-oncology laboratory of UNSW as a medical student, she interacted with patients struggling to navigate the complex healthcare system to find clinical trials relevant to their conditions.
‘During my time at the lab, patients were approaching me directly for help in finding a clinical trial. I was manually navigating trial registries and spending hours—and even days—trying to find suitable trials for these patients.’
It was one case in particular, however, that drove Ms Gunawardena to explore ways to provide more efficient and equitable patient access to clinical trials.
‘The turning point was a case I came across in the clinic: two patients, both in their thirties and both with the same stage and type of lung cancer. One patient had a father who was a GP—he knew the system well and his daughter participated in two clinical trials. The other family were just as motivated but without the resources or network to learn about available trials. The first patient was able to return to work; her cancer was stable. The other patient unfortunately passed away.’ she said.
Determined to improve patients’ knowledge of, and ability to access clinical trials, Ms Gunawardena partnered with Arran Schlosberg, a doctor and software engineer, and together they co-founded HealthMatch—a clinical trial matching platform.
While developing the HealthMatch app, which pairs patients with relevant clinical trials, Ms Gunawardena worked as a Clinical Research Assistant at the Centre for Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery in Sydney, completed a Neurosurgery Sub-Internship at Johns Hopkins University and worked for the Cure Brain Cancer Foundation.
The app, which launched in January 2017, has proven incredibly successful—in the past two years, it has raised $1.3 million in capital from Australian and US industry and won the inaugural Australian TechCrunch Start-up Battlefield. The organisation is now working to raise at least $10 million to boost plans to expand the app outside Australia.
In early 2019, Ms Gunawardena’s innovative approach to empowering and engaging patients was recognised with her inclusion in the Forbes ‘30 Under 30 Asia’ list.
A passionate advocate for education, Ms Gunawardena has also been a mentor for The New York Academy of Sciences Global STEM Alliance, an international initiative to assure the next the generation of female STEM innovators by pairing high school students with women professionals.
Ms Gunawardena will return to Brisbane Girls Grammar School on Wednesday 28 August 2019, as a guest speaker at Grammar Women: Leaders and Game Changers.