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Did you know bowel cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer for both men and women in Australia? This is why lifesaving research into this heartbreaking disease is so important, and we are so proud to support work in this area.

Unfortunately bowel cancer often spreads to other parts of the body before or shortly after diagnosis, and in about 50 percent of those cases it will spread to the liver. Sadly once the cancer has spread to the liver it is often unresponsive to current treatments.

Thanks to the support of a 2017 grant from The Hospital Research Foundation, Dr Ehud Hauben and the Liver Metastasis Research Group at the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research (BHI) are developing an Australian-first therapy that aims to stop bowel cancer from spreading to the liver.

“Due to the high likelihood of bowel cancer ultimately spreading to a patient’s liver, there is an urgent need for reliable risk prediction and effective preventative methods. This project will be the first in Australia to focus exclusively on developing a preventative therapy against secondary liver tumours,” Dr Hauben said.

Liver Mestatis Research Group, ZinaidaTvorogova, Dr Chandra Kirana, Dr Hauben and Kevin Fenix.
Liver Mestatis Research Group, ZinaidaTvorogova, Dr Chandra Kirana, Dr Hauben and Kevin Fenix.

To develop this new therapy Dr Hauben and team member Dr Chandra Kirana have utilised previous grant funding, awarded to the Surgical Science Research Group supervisor Professor Guy Maddern by THRF, to identify two particular proteins that play pivotal roles in the invasion, survival and growth of bowel cancer cells in the liver.

“At the moment we don’t know why some bowel cancer spreads quickly to vital organs, and some don’t. My role is to find what proteins are common amongst patients whose cancer has spread to the liver that could be potential diagnostic markers and targets for a therapy,” Dr Kirana said.

“We’ve found numerous proteins that play a role in bowel cancer but so far we’ve identified two particular proteins which, through our analysis of blood and tissue samples from over 150 bowel cancer patients, were found to play a significant role in the control of tumour survival and spread into surrounding tissue, as well as in the distant metastasis of bowel cancer to the liver.”

Using funding from THRF, Dr Hauben will now kick-start research aimed at developing a therapy to target these two proteins in the hopes of improving patient’s response to current treatments which are having limited success.

“Our research focus is on proteins that help cancer cells evade immunotherapy treatments which currently provide very limited benefit for patients, as well as on proteins that improve the capacity of the liver to respond against and reject invading bowel cancer cells” Dr Hauben.

“Our hope is that the use of an effective drug delivery vehicle combined with anti-cancer compounds to target these proteins will enable development of a preventative therapy against liver metastasis that will increase the number of cancer patients who are responsive to current surgical and immunotherapy treatments.”

By finding new ways of manipulating the activity of these proteins, Dr Hauben and his team will be able to reduce the likelihood of bowel cancer spreading to the liver and ultimately reduce patient’s resistance to current treatments.

Whilst in its early stages, this research has the potential to revolutionise treatment for bowel cancer not only in Australia but also across the globe.