Dr Kara Vine-Perrow

IHMRI scientists and doctors uncover potential new way to assist in early detection and monitoring of bowel cancer.

Bowel cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is one of the most common forms of cancer in Australia, and the incidence is increasing, particularly among younger people. Bowel Cancer Australia estimates that 20,000 people will be diagnosed with the disease in 2020.

Bowel cancer is one of the more deadly forms of cancer—second only to lung cancer in the number of lives it claims each year.

If diagnosed early doctors can successfully treat a patient with bowel cancer. Unfortunately, fewer than 40 per cent of patients with bowel cancer have their disease detected during the early stages, reducing their chances of survival. Therefore, medical practitioners urgently need new biomarkers that can detect early-stage disease and even early growth, such as adenoma. Carcino-embryonic antigen (CEA), still the most widely accepted prognostic marker in bowel cancer, is mainly used for disease monitoring after therapy, since elevated CEA levels are only detected at later stages of the disease.

A team of IHMRI researchers at the University of Wollongong (UOW), with the help of medical practitioners in the Illawarra, have uncovered new insights into translationally controlled tumour protein (TCTP) that could pave the way for new and improved ways to diagnose and treat bowel cancer.

“TCTP is involved in numerous biological processes in the human body. It protects cells from a range of stresses and is involved in the cellular DNA damage repair system. However it is also involved in cell growth and the development of different types of cancers,” explains Associate Professor Ulrich Bommer.

The team, which included Research Fellow Dr Kara Vine and Dr Alistair Lochhead, investigated how TCTP behaves in the early development of bowel cancer and during chemotherapy. “Our research shows that TCTP levels are already elevated in the early stages of bowel cancer development. This means that TCTP could be explored as a biomarker to assist in the detection of early tumour growth and to identify patients with a high TCTP status,” reveals Associate Professor Bommer.

The researchers also found that TCTP might protect cancer cells against chemotherapy treatment. “In bowel cancer cells which are treated with 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and oxaliplatin, two chemotherapeutic drugs frequently used in bowel cancer treatment, we found that TCTP levels are particularly high. We suspect that TCTP may be responsible for making the cancer cells resistant to the anti-cancer treatments,” states Dr Vine.

The researchers believe this insight could make TCTP suitable as a potential biomarker for chemo-resistance and as an anti-cancer drug target in chemo-resistant tumours. Further research is required to explore these theories.

The IHMRI team comprised researchers from UOW’s Schools of Medicine and of Biological Sciences, as well as Medical Practitioners from Southern.IML Pathology and from The Wollongong Hospital. Funding for the project was obtained through a URC small grant from the Graduate School of Medicine and through a grant from the IHMRI Small Grants Program. It was the aim of these grant programs to facilitate exactly such types of collaborative projects.

Read the full paper: Bommer et al. Translationally controlled tumour protein TCTP is induced early in human colorectal tumours and contributes to the resistance of HCT116 colon cancer cells to 5-FU and oxaliplatin. Cell Communication and Signaling (2017) 15:9. https://biosignaling.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12964-017-0164-3

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