Melbourne scientists lead cancer breakthrough

12 April 2017

Written by: Clement Deng

Melbourne scientists have discovered a way to halt the growth of tumours.

In a breakthrough discovery, Melbourne scientists have found a way to prevent the spread and growth of cancer cells.

New research from the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute has revealed that inhibiting a particular protein has the potential to stop the growth of bowel and gastric cancers.

Stomach and bowel cancers affect more than 15,000 Australians each year.

Writing for the medical journal, Cancer Cell, lead researcher Professor Matthias Ernst said that the discovery provided a new options for treatment.

“Our discovery could potentially offer a new and complementary approach to chemotherapy and immunotherapy as options for treating gastrointestinal cancers,” he said.

By interrupting the body’s wound-healing process and blocking exposure to a protein called HCK, researchers were able to prevent cells from mutating.

Professor Ernst said that HCK had a ‘garbage collector’ effect on damaged or cancerous cells.

“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.”

Without the protein, cancerous cells were halted in their tracks.

While the process has been successful in treating gastrointestinal cancers, Professor Ernst told The Herald Sun believes that it could be used to treat to other types of cancer.

“It is relatively straightforward to synthesise a family of molecules that are related,” he said.

“The potential is quite big because we are not targeting the cancer cell that has a mutation specific to the colon, stomach, breast or whatever it is, we are targeting abnormal cell.”

The Institute is now focused on collaborating with other researchers to design a drug capable of freezing the cells. Professor Ernst believes that it could be ready for clinical trials within three years.

Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessey told The Age that the breakthrough had lifesaving potential.

“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.