Melbourne scientists have made a groundbreaking discovery in the fight against cancer, finding a way to reduce the growth of some tumours.
Researchers from the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute have found that inhibiting a particular protein can suspend the growth of bowel and gastric cancers.
Gastrointestinal cancers are among the most common and deadly forms of cancer, affecting more than 15,000 Australians each year.
Scientific director at the institute Professor Matthias Ernst led the pioneering research, which was published in the latest issue of medical journal Cancer Cell.
“Our discovery could potentially offer a new and complementary approach to chemotherapy and immunotherapy as options for treating gastrointestinal cancers,” Professor Ernst said.
In preclinical trials, his research showed a protein called hematopoietic cell kinase (HCK) had a powerful role in the development of cancer because of its effect on macrophages, which are important cells of the immune system.
“These cells can behave like ‘garbage collectors’ when they remove unwanted debris or damaged cells, or they can behave like ‘nurses’ to help at sites of injury and wounding,” Professor Ernst said.
“What we’ve now discovered is the more HCK activity a macrophage has, the more it nurtures cancer cell growth and survival.”
Professor Ernst’s team found that inhibiting HCK using a small drug-like molecule could stop the growth of bowel and gastric cancers.
Head of medical oncology at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre Dr Niall Tebbutt said bowel cancer was generally resistant to conventional immunotherapy treatments.
He said the research offered a “new approach to possibly overcome this resistance”.
Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessey said the results were another step forward in the fight against cancer.
“Stomach and bowel cancers are among the biggest killers of Victorians each year and this revolutionary development has the potential to one day save thousands of lives,” she said.