UniSA researchers win $1.3m to find better treatments for cancer

L to R: Dr Sarah Boyle, Prof Richard D’Andrea & Prof Michael Samuel.

Three Centre for Cancer Biology (CCB) researchers from UniSA and SA Pathology have collectively been awarded more than $1.3 million to further vital research into bowel cancer, acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) and breast cancer.

A team led by CCB scientist Professor Michael Samuel will investigate why people diagnosed with early-onset bowel cancer have a 50% chance of experiencing a relapse after surgery to remove the primary tumour. Compared to people diagnosed with late-onset bowel cancers, it is also more likely that the cancer will spread to other organs.

“At the moment we cannot predict whose tumours will return and whose won’t, resulting in some patients receiving unnecessary chemotherapy and others who elect not to, leading to a relapse,” Prof Samuels says.

“However, we have identified chemicals produced by tumours that affect the chances of cancer relapse. If we can block these enzymes from hijacking normal cells in their environment, this could be a new way of targeting bowel cancer.”

Prof Samuel’s team has been awarded $573,833 for this project.

CCB leukaemia researcher Professor Richard D’Andrea will use a $599,392 grant from Cancer Australia to analyse and treat genetic changes in children with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

Although children diagnosed with AML undergo aggressive chemotherapy, approximately 30% do not survive.

“It is now widely understood that the genes we are born with can affect our risk of developing AML and influence the response to treatment,” Dr D’Andrea says.

“Despite this knowledge, guidelines for doctors on how to best treat childhood AML patients based on their individual genetic profile are lacking. This could be leading to suboptimal outcomes in some childhood AML patients.

“We will address this gap by establishing national expert guidelines for the analysis and clinical utility of inherited genetic changes that are identified in childhood AML patients. We will also investigate novel genetic mechanisms and indicators of harmful treatment responses, leading to improved patient outcomes.”

CCB Research Fellow Dr Sarah Boyle has been awarded $199,883 to explore a new way of blocking the spread of breast cancer and improving outcomes for women.

Metastasis is the most common cause of cancer-related related death in women, caused by rogue chemicals that are released from cancers as they grow.

“These cancer cells influence normal cells, causing the cancer to spread to other organs. This project will focus on finding a way to block these chemicals and stop breast cancer metastasis,” Dr Boyle says.

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