World-first DNA study for earlier colorectal cancer detection

Posted 12 Mar 2024
In a world-first study, Flinders University researchers are analysing patient blood samples to a greater degree than ever before in an effort to detect bowel cancer earlier and at a more treatable stage – ideally before symptoms present.

And there’s hope that their work could lead to development of the first Australian-made blood screening test to detect bowel cancer - also known as colorectal cancer.

Dr Ganessan Kichenadasse and research scientist Geri Laven-Law have been awarded a Flinders Foundation Health Seed Grant to carry out tumour DNA extraction from plasma samples of patients treated for colorectal cancer at Flinders, analysing them to detect epigenetic changes within the tumour DNA ‘methylome’.

“At present, stool-based testing is used to detect colorectal cancer – but about 60 per cent of people do not participate in this screening,” Ms Laven-Law explains.

“While we believe participation will improve by offering a blood screening test, the only FDA-approved blood test for colorectal cancer screening is not available in Australia, and it underperforms for early-stage colorectal cancer detection.

This project will generate critical biomarker discovery data necessary for further development of a better blood test for early-stage colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most commonly diagnosed cancer, and the second most common cause of cancer‐related death in Australia.

While more than 90 per cent of people can survive colorectal cancer if it is detected before the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs, sadly less than half of all Australians will be diagnosed at these early and more treatable stages.

“Results from this study could be instrumental in developing a better blood test with greater sensitivity and specificity for colorectal cancer, addressing the unmet clinical need for effective and minimally-invasive detection of early-stage cancer,” Dr Kichenadasse says.

“There is further scope for this same technology to also be used for detection of other gastrointestinal cancers which do not have an established screening program but remain a significant cause of cancer-associated mortality.

Project title: Hide and seq: Finding new blood biomarkers for early detection of colorectal cancer

This project is one of 31 exciting new health and medical research projects to receive funding in Flinders Foundation’s annual health seed grant thanks to donations from generous individuals and funds raised by supporters and organisation.

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