A protein in the immune system can be used to help fight bowel cancer, according to new research from the Australian National University (ANU).
Bowel cancer claims more than 100 lives every week in Australia, yet almost 90 per cent of cases can be successfully treated if detected early.
According to lead author Dr Abhimanu Pandey, from ANU, the protein, known as Ku70, can be activated or “turned on” like a light switch using a combination of new and existing drugs.
When activated, the protein acts like a surveillance system, detecting signs of damaged DNA in our cells.
DNA is the genetic code of life. Damaged DNA is a danger sign that can turn healthy cells into cancer cells.
Our research shows that Ku70 can ‘cool down’ cancer cells and remove damaged DNA. The protein prevents cancer cells from becoming more aggressive and spreading throughout the body, essentially inactivating them and keeping them dormant.”
Dr. Abhimanu Pandey, ANU
Bowel cancer is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia. It is estimated that one in 20 people will develop bowel cancer by the age of 85.
Under the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, Australians aged 50 to 74 receive a free bowel screening test every two years – an effective system for early detection and treatment.
Although the risk of bowel cancer is higher in people over 50, an increasing number of younger Australians are being diagnosed with the disease. One in nine new bowel cancers now occur in Australians under the age of 50.
Professor Si Ming Man, also from ANU, said future bowel cancer screening methods could include testing Ku70 levels in pre-cancerous polyps, abnormal growths of tissue found in the colon before healthy cells turn cancerous.
“Our research shows that Ku70 is a good immune biomarker, which means it helps us predict who will do better or worse after being diagnosed with bowel cancer,” Professor Mann said.
Ahead of World Cancer Day on February 4, ANU researchers are urging people of all ages to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.
“We know early detection and treatment are key to beating not only bowel cancer, but potentially other cancers as well,” Professor Mann said.
“We hope the cancer research carried out at ANU will help raise awareness of cancer prevention, detection and treatment on this important day.”
The study was published Science advances. Find out more about how ANU researchers are making important strides in cancer research ANU Reporter.