A new treatment approach for bowel cancer

Colorectal Cancer

Lead Researcher: Professor Xu Dong Zhang

Institution: The University of Newcastle

Cancer Council NSW Funding: $445,185

Funding Duration: 2020 – 2022


Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world with over 16,000 Australians expected to be diagnosed with bowel cancer during 2020. Almost 90% of cases can be treated successfully if detected early - however, fewer than 40% of cases are detected at an early stage. Patients with late-stage bowel cancer are treated with anti-cancer drugs but most develop resistance to treatment. Resistance can occur when certain molecules are switched on or become more active in bowel cancer cells. 

The Research

In his laboratory, Professor Zhang has identified a molecule called ‘MILIP’, which is highly active in late-stage bowel cancer. Removing MILIP from bowel cancer cells makes the cells more sensitive to treatment and stops the cancer cells from growing, offering a potential new way to treat late-stage bowel cancer. In this project, using tumour samples from patients, Professor Zhang and his team will validate their previous findings in pre-clinical tests. They will also measure the levels of MILIP in patients as a way of predicting how well a patient will respond to current treatment. The team will then develop and test new drugs known as ‘Ioms’ to target and prevent the activation of MILIP.

The Impact

This project will could significantly improve outcomes for patients with late-stage bowel cancer, particularly those with high levels of MILIP. The initial findings from this project will form the basis for developing Ioms that can be used as a new treatment approach to target MILIP, and make existing drugs more effective in bowel cancer patients. 

If successful, the team aims to implement Ioms into clinical practice as a new treatment approach for late-stage bowel cancer patients and develop a low cost, easy-to-use laboratory kit to detect the levels of MILIP in bowel cancer patients.

As the molecule MILIP may also play a role in other types of cancer, this treatment could potentially be extended to other cancers in the future.


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