Lifesaving research is underway dedicated to preventing the heartbreak of bowel cancer. How? By understanding and potentially targeting our own immune cells!

Leading this crucial research is Immunologist Dr Kevin Fenix from the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research. Dr Fenix is investigating a group of immune cells that could be a key target to predict whether a patient’s bowel cancer is likely to spread.

Now Dr Fenix has an Early Career Fellowship from The Hospital Research Foundation to progress this lifesaving research!

“When bowel cancer is diagnosed early, patients have a 90 per cent cure rate with the treatments currently available to them,” Dr Fenix said.

“It’s when the cancer reaches stage two and three that it becomes a problem. While the surgeon can remove the cancer, there is a 50 per cent chance of it returning and spreading to other areas of the patient’s bodies, most commonly the liver. It’s at this stage where patients sadly succumb to the disease.”

Dr Fenix’s discovery could see clinicians be able to predict when a patient’s cancer is more likely to spread or return, meaning they can be more closely monitored.

“This immune cell I am studying is newly discovered, and is typically present in a person’s body when they have an infection. Recently, researchers have started to see these immune cells in cancer, in fact it has already been identified in breast cancer,” Dr Fenix said.

“We are very lucky to have access to a bank that stores the tissue samples of patients who have had their cancer tumour removed through surgery. With these samples spanning a 20 year period, we’ve been able to track these patients over time and discovered those whose cancer sadly did end up returning had high levels of this immune cell.

“Now we are trying to understand these cells more, how they interact and what role they place in helping cancer to spread through a person’s body.”

The next step for Dr Fenix and his team is to begin collecting samples from patients who undergo surgery at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and The Queen Elizabeth Hospital. If their findings are positive, Dr Fenix is hopeful his research could lead to a new way of detecting and treating the heartbreaking disease.

“After the patient has their surgery, we hope the clinicians will be able to test their tissue for these immune cells to determine how likely it is for their cancer to return and spread. Once we understand the cells more we’ll know if there is potential for a new treatment based on this finding.”

Whilst in its early stages, this research could save the lives of so many diagnosed with bowel cancer in the future.

Donate to support more research like Dr Fenix’s today.

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