Bowel cancer researcher focuses on molecular analysis

Monday, 14 May, 2018

Bowel cancer researcher focuses on molecular analysis

Professor Mark Molloy has been appointed the inaugural Lawrence Penn Chair of Bowel Cancer Research at the University of Sydney — and it’s not a position he’s taking on lightly.

The chair was established thanks to $6.4 million in funding from Bowel Cancer Australia, plus an additional $4 million in support from the university. It is named after one of Australia’s oldest bowel cancer survivors, former Air Force and Qantas pilot Lawrence Penn, who was diagnosed with the disease 30 years ago but was able to enjoy a healthy retirement thanks to early detection and treatment.

The focus of the Lawrence Penn Chair will be on how molecular analysis provides higher resolution information on bowel polyps and cancers and how clinicians can use this in making decisions about cancer treatment pathways to improve patient outcomes.

“Currently, multidisciplinary teams discuss imaging, surgery and approaches to chemotherapy,” Professor Molloy said.

“All tumours are unique at the molecular level and I’d like to see clinicians leveraging this information in making treatment decisions, to improve patient outcomes.”

Professor Molloy’s goal is to use molecular analysis to discover what causes polyps to become cancerous and what drives certain cancers to spread to other organs. He will also investigate how drug treatments can be improved and personalised, based on the proteins in a patient’s cancer.

“Most of the drugs used to treat cancer interact with proteins or are proteins themselves, so cancer proteomics is an important new frontier in cancer research,” Professor Molloy explained.

Although bowel cancer is Australia’s second deadliest cancer, it struggles to attract the same level of research funding as other common cancers. Expenditure by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) on bowel cancer was $12.3 million in 2017, compared to $22.8 million on breast cancer and $15.9 million on melanoma.

“The establishment of this chair demonstrates our commitment to funding leading-edge research, raising the profile of bowel cancer nationally and making real change happen for those affected by the disease,” said Bowel Cancer Australia CEO Julien Wiggins.

Originally announced in February 2015, the chair serves as the culmination of many years of effort by the Bowel Cancer Australia board. The organisation hopes the significant investment by its donors will help drive crucial bowel cancer research as well as raise awareness about the disease.

Image caption: Professor Mark Molloy. Image credit: Louise Cooper/University of Sydney.

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