Project aims to unlock key to bowel cancer treatment success

Updated 27 Apr 2017.

Dr Mel McCoy 2017 Suzanne Cavanagh Early Researcher recipient

A local researcher investigating whether immune suppressing molecules might play a critical role in determining the success of bowel cancer treatment is this year's recipient of our Suzanne Cavanagh Early Career Investigator grant.

Dr Melanie McCoy from the University of Western Australia and St John of God Subiaco Hospital in Subiaco secured the $34,000 grant as part of our $4 million 2017 Research Funding Program.

Dr McCoy said her research focuses on patients who have chemotherapy and radiotherapy prior to having surgery and predicting how well the treatment is going to work.

"At present we know the results for these treatments are variable; some patients can see their tumour completely disappear at the end of treatment but for other patients it doesn't shrink very much at all.

"So we're trying to investigate if the immune suppressing molecules, produced by the tumour, are a predictor of response to treatment, and specifically for patients where their tumour hasn't responded to treatment if their tumour is producing more of these molecules," she said.

Dr McCoy said her research project involves looking at tissue samples from surgery and biopsy samples from (consenting) bowel cancer patients who've been treated at St John of God Hospital in Subiaco before they've had treatment.

She said they are looking to see if they can identify these suppressive molecules on the tumour and whether that relates to how they've responded to the treatment.

"There are drugs available now, that bind to these molecules and stop that immune suppression, that have worked very well with melanoma and lung cancer patients so we're trying to understand if drugs like that could improve the response to treatment for bowel cancer."

The project which is being run in conjunction with Telethon Kids Institute is expected to be completed by the middle of next year.

Dr McCoy said she's always been interested in improving cancer treatment. This research is building on outcomes from another grant from us 2012.

"Looking at how the immune system interacts with cancer is an exciting and emerging area of research that has the potential to change how well treatments work for cancer patients.

"Without funding from Cancer Council WA, quite simply, we wouldn't be able to do this work," she said.

Read more about the research projects we've been able to fund this year thanks to the generous donations of the WA community on our Successful Research Funding page.

Found in:  News - 2017  | View all news