Research funded to investigate early-onset bowel cancer progression

Bowel Cancer Australia recently announced a team led by Professor Michael Samuel as the successful applicant for a three-year $600k early-onset bowel cancer research project through the 2023 round of Cancer Australia’s Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme (PdCCRS).

According to Bowel Cancer Australia, bowel cancer in the under fifties is trending upward, with 1-in-9 new bowel cancer cases now occurring in people under age 50, and presentation with metastatic disease more frequent in this demographic. Rates in the over fifties have stabilised or are declining.

Rho-associated kinase or ROCK, is an enzyme (protein) found in everyone, and it controls the shape and movement of cells within the body.

The way in which cancer cells communicate with normal cells in their environment via ROCK has been discovered to drive disease progression (invasion, metastasis, and recurrence). This understanding has revealed that blocking cancers from hijacking normal cells in this way could be a new way to target the disease.

Professor Samuel of the Centre for Cancer Biology (an alliance between the University of South Australia and SA Pathology) and the Basil Hetzel Institute for Translational Health Research will investigate ROCK-induced early-onset bowel cancer progression.

“People diagnosed with early-onset bowel cancer have a 50% chance that their cancer will recur or spread to other organs following initial intervention (e.g. surgery to remove the primary cancer), compared to around 30% in people diagnosed with late-onset bowel cancer,” says Professor Samuel.

“We have evidence that ROCK activity in bowel cancers drives this process by influencing how cancers communicate with their environment. Our project will investigate how this happens. We will also study whether certain effects of ROCK activation in early-onset bowel cancers can help us predict whose cancers will recur and whose will not,” he continues.

“In a practical sense, this could help us use targeted therapies that block cancer cells from communicating with their environment, in people who are most likely to experience recurrence of their cancer. It could also help us minimise the use of debilitating chemotherapies,” he adds.

The research team, which includes clinicians from the Central Adelaide Local Health Network, will also be examining whether proteins that interact with ROCK cause early-onset bowel cancer progression, and if they do, targeting these proteins would be a way of stopping ROCK from accelerating tumour growth.

Source: Bowel Cancer Australia

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