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Bowel cancer ‘organoids’ research boosted by $300k grant

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29 August 2017

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Associate Professor Helen Abud and Associate Professor Paul McMurrick

A generous philanthropic grant from The Collie Foundation will boost ground-breaking clinical and translational bowel cancer research being undertaken by a Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute and Cabrini Health collaborative team.

This philanthropic grant confirms the continuing importance of the colorectal research platform that has been built up substantially at Cabrini Health with a new team of research scientists and collaborators at Monash University.

This grant will enable the team to continue its leading research in organoids – an approach that has the potential to create ‘personalised medicine’ whereby patients could be spared the gruelling trial and error approach to treatment, thereby taking some of the stress and anxiety out of bowel cancer treatment.

This exciting initiative is a joint research collaboration between the Cabrini Monash University Department of Surgery, led by Associate Professor Paul McMurrick (Frohlich West Chair of Surgery), Let’s Beat Bowel Cancer and the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute with Associate Professor Helen Abud and her team.

Following a diagnosis of bowel cancer, small amounts of both normal and cancerous tissue are taken from the colon of bowel cancer patients undergoing treatment at Cabrini Hospital. This tissue is then grown into living, three-dimensional tumours, known as ‘organoids’, that mimic the properties and traits of the tissue from which they are taken.

The aim, according to Associate Professor Paul McMurrick, is to develop organoids as a quick and cost-effective way to study tumour biology and determine the best treatment for an individual’s cancer.

“Organoids are of huge interest,” Associate Professor McMurrick said, “because it means that clinicians and scientists can now study our biology in action outside a patient’s body.”

Currently the research team has grown 74 organoids and are well on their way to their goal of developing a living biobank of 100. In addition to banking primary tumours, the team has also begun to bank metastatic tumours also known as secondary tumours, with progress going a significant way in studying how different tumours grow and what can be done to prevent their spread. This has been developed through Cabrini Hospital because Cabrini is the highest volume treatment centre for bowel cancer in Victoria in both the public and private sector, supported by a mature and well established patient follow-up clinical database.

“This new grant of $300,000 from The Collie Foundation will allow us to continue the Cabrini department of surgery’s research platform in an expanded fashion, and pursue such an exciting research and innovative clinical tool,” Associate Professor McMurrick said.

Associate Professor Abud hopes that ultimately, the living biobank of organoids will also be used to trial new drugs to determine how effective they are in stopping cancer growth.

“These organoids can be tested with an array of cancer therapies to reveal patient sensitivities to drugs,” Associate Professor Abud said.

“This will either determine those treatments that work fastest at getting rid of the tumour, or those that have little effect, thereby avoiding giving patients ineffective treatments. It is the ultimate in personalised medicine,” she said.