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The Ballarat team fighting one of our biggest killers

George Kannourakis

Bowel cancer research conducted at the Fiona Elsey Cancer Research Institute in Ballarat, has discovered that a subset of immune cells in the bowel can misbehave and release chemical messengers that promote bowel cancer and inhibit other immune cells.

Honary Director of FECRI, Professor George Kannourakis and PhD Candidate Jason Kelly, spoke with Garrath & Gabe on Ballarat Today about their discovery that has international attention.

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Australia has one of the highest rates of Bowel cancer in the world. It is the third most diagnosed form of cancer in Australia and the second largest killer. Regular screening and early detection are key with a 98% successful rate, when detected early. But new treatments are needed for more advanced disease.  Bowel cancer outcomes in Western Victorian are poor with a 4% higher mortality rate than the Victorian average. 

Most Bowel cancers start as benign, non-threatening growths – called polyps – on the wall or lining of the bowel. 

FECRI researchers have discovered that immune cells in the walls of the bowel can misbehave and release chemical messengers that promote Bowel cancer. The cells (called ‘MAIT’ cells) are typically helpful for fighting normal bacterial infections in the gut but the Ballarat team found that long term stimulation caused the immune cells to release a chemical message. This message triggering the growth and spread of the cancer, while suppressing nearby anti-cancer immune responses.

The research has been conducted as part of the Institutes collaborative program with researchers from the University of Melbourne. The breakthrough has been recognised as an outstanding observation in international journal, Immunology & Cell Biology.

FECRI Team

Professor Stuart Berzins from the Institute, said “ …the study has been well received at national and international conferences and in our next stage we will be working collaboratively with researchers at the University of Melbourne to develop new treatment strategies that specifically target these misbehaving cells.”

Professor George Kannourakis said “This publication is a great example of the ground-breaking work that the team here at the Institute is doing into the immunology of cancer. In particular it demonstrates the close relationship with clinicians and our researchers, to achieve translational outcomes for patients. It is only through research such as this that we can improve the outcomes for patients with advanced bowel cancer. Our program is building great momentum and will continue to produce outcomes.”

Image: Supplied by FECRI