Perfect conditions for research and rowing

IT'S first light on Northern Tasmania's Tamar River and conditions are glass-water perfect for chief scientist Andrew Heaton to stroke his Masters' Games crew through early morning training.

They are the same conditions that have inspired Dr Heaton to persist with a potential breakthrough treatment for brain cancer since he moved back home to live last year.

The anti-cancer drug being developed by Dr Heaton and his scientific colleague Graham Kelly promises to significantly change the treatment results for sufferers of the particularly virulent cancer.

The two experienced scientists are also pioneering the work methods behind their important research.

``This is my virtual office,'' says Dr Heaton from a comfortable couch with a bird's eye view of the Tamar.

``These are my work companions.'' He indicated, with a sweep of the arm, two sleek, attentive cats.

Dr Heaton said that some of his best work on the proposed cancer drug had been done since he came back to Tasmania to live with his partner Kim, a vet.

``From my home in Riverside, I have been able to blend my two great passions _ science and rowing,'' he said.

``It is amazing to think technology allows me to design molecules in my lounge which are then sent to be built and tested elsewhere even as far afield as Yale, in the US.''

The former North-West Coast boy attended Latrobe High School and Don College and has been living and working in Sydney for many years.

He said that he had forgotten how beautiful his home state was.

Dr Heaton's journey to cutting-edge, international cancer research has been a roundabout one.

He was inspired by former University of Tasmania science professor John Bremner to swap from general science to a straight chemistry degree in the early 1980s.

It has taken him to some top national and international research jobs and academic postings since leaving the state in the mid 1980s.

But not before an impressive university rowing career.

``We rowed in the King's Cup in 1984,'' he said. He has maintained his rowing skills.

Mark Wilson, who is part of his 2013 Launceston crew training to compete in the Tasmanian Masters' Championships and the National Masters' Championships in Canberra, in April, was also a member of the 1984 King's Cup team.

Dr Heaton and Dr Kelly first started working on a better treatment for brain cancer between 1999 and 2001 when they were part of  the Novogen company, based at North Ryde, in Sydney.

They built that ``actual'' laboratory into a team of 15 scientists working on increasing the horsepower of the natural products that they started with so that it had the staying power to kill off cancer cells.

``Some treatments are so toxic that patients lost their hair in 21 days.''

They spent six or seven years trying to manipulate the molecules to have the horsepower and staying power required before they both left to continue other careers.

But neither could leave it alone and formed a new company with a silent partner to resume the work and take it to clinical testing stage.

Dr Heaton chose brain cancer as the first to tackle inspired by his mother's experience.

``Sadly she died a decade ago at the Launceston General Hospital.

``She had bladder cancer that came back into the spinal cord and went to the brain,'' he said.

More than 1500 Australians are diagnosed with primary brain cancer annually, Dr Heaton said.

``The prognosis for them is poor, with life expectancy only about 12 to 18 months,'' he said.

Brain cancer drug pioneer-researcher Andrew Heaton mixes his two loves _ science and rowing. Picture: WILL SWAN

Brain cancer drug pioneer-researcher Andrew Heaton mixes his two loves _ science and rowing. Picture: WILL SWAN