Surfing for a cancer cure

Centenary researcher Dr Josep “Pep” Font

They both demand years of training, attention to detail, and an enormous amount of support from others, but there’s not much else medical research and surf ironman competitions have in common—until now.

Centenary researcher Dr Josep “Pep” Font is bringing the two together by competing in October in one of the world’s most gruelling ironman races, The Coolangatta Gold, while raising funds for the Structural Biology lab in which he works.

Pep started competing in adventure races about five years ago, and switched to surf lifesaving events after joining the Bondi Surf Bathers’ Life Saving Club (BSBLSC). He wanted to improve his skills in the water.

The Coolangatta Gold, however, is a quantum leap from your everyday surf competition. The men’s race begins with a 23 km surf-ski leg, a 650 m beach run, a 3.5 km surf swim, another 4 km beach run, and a 5.5 km board paddle, all before the final torturous 10 km beach run to the finish line. It’s not surprising that the event has been described as two races—one for those who race to win and one for those who race to finish. Pep will be part of the BSBLSC team.

Dr Josep “Pep” Font

Although an avid athlete, science has been Pep’s real passion since he was a child. During his undergraduate years, he was introduced to structural biology—how molecular structures drive the functions of living organisms. He became fascinated by the understanding this gave as to how our bodies work. His current project on prostate cancer fits in with his goal of helping to find cures for degenerative diseases like cancer.

“One in nine Australian men will develop prostate cancer in their lifetime,” he says, “making it the most common form of cancer in this country.”

The researchers in Centenary’s Structural Biology lab are studying the structural mechanisms by which nutrients are transported into the cancer cells, enabling them to grow and multiply. They believe that by understanding this process they will be able to develop effective drugs to target nutrient uptake, crippling and killing tumour cells with fewer side effects. You can learn more about what they are doing here.

Pep’s main goal this year is to finish the Coolangatta Gold in four hours. “This is my first race of this kind,” he says. “I would like to be able to compete in bigger events next year. I’m competing against the water conditions and myself. It’s certainly quite the challenge, and to just finish would mean a lot to me.”

You can help him do so and support his vital research at Centenary here.