‘Cancer-cooling’ protein puts bowel cancer on ice

Share this:

A protein in the immune system can be manipulated to help overcome bowel cancer, according to new research from The Australian National University (ANU) supported by Phenomics Australia and Microscopy Australia.

Bowel cancer claims more than 100 lives in Australia each week, yet around 90 per cent of cases can be successfully treated if detected early.

This story was first published at ANU Reporter.

According to lead author Dr Abhimanu Pandey, from ANU, the protein, known as Ku70, can be activated or “turned on” like a light switch by using a combination of new and existing drugs. 

“In its activated state, the protein acts like a surveillance system, detecting signs of damaged DNA in our cells,” Dr Pandey said.  

ANU scientists used mouse colon tissue samples to conduct their research. Photo: Jamie Kidston/ANU

“DNA is the genetic code of life. Damaged DNA is a sign of danger that can turn healthy cells into cancer cells. 

“Our research shows that Ku70 can ‘cool off’ cancer cells and mop up damaged DNA. The protein prevents the cancer cells from becoming more aggressive and spreading throughout the body, essentially deactivating them and keeping them in a dormant state.” 

“Doing biomedical research requires collaboration and support from central research facilities. Phenomics Australia has been instrumental in supporting our research over the years. I would particularly like to thank the members of Phenomics Australia for their training and assistance throughout this study.”

Dr Abhimanu Pandey

Bowel cancer is the fourth most diagnosed cancer in Australia. It’s estimated one in 20 people will be diagnosed with bowel cancer by the age of 85.  

Under the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, Australians aged between 50 and 74 receive a free bowel screening test every two years – an effective measure to promote early detection and treatment. 

Although the risk of developing bowel cancer is higher in people aged over 50, an increasing number of younger Australians are being diagnosed with the disease. One in nine new bowel cancer cases now occur in Australians under the age of 50. 

Professor Si Ming Man, also from ANU, said future bowel cancer screening methods could include checking the levels of Ku70 in pre-cancerous polyps, abnormal growths of tissue found in the colon, before healthy cells turn cancerous. 

“Our research shows Ku70 is a good immune biomarker, meaning it helps us predict who will fare better or worse after being diagnosed with bowel cancer,” Professor Man said.  

Ahead of World Cancer Day on 4 February, the ANU researchers are calling for people of all ages to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.  

“We know early detection and treatment is vital to overcoming not only bowel cancer, but potentially other cancers as well,” Professor Man said. 

“We hope the cancer research conducted at ANU helps raise awareness of cancer prevention, detection, and treatment on this important day.”  

The research is published in Science Advances. Learn more about how ANU researchers are making important strides in cancer research at ANU Reporter.

Top image: Dr Abhimanu Pandey says an immune system protein can be manipulated to help overcome bowel cancer. Photo: Jamie Kidston/ANU

We would also like to congratulate Dr Abhimanu Pandey, who was recently awarded a Royal Society of NSW Bicentennial Early Career Research and Service Citations Award 2023. He is being recognised for outstanding contributions to research into cancer biology and service to the academic and wider community.

With an established track record and reputation for excellence, Phenomics Australia In Vivo Genome Engineering team uses techniques such as CRISPR-mediated mutagenesis, classical gene targeting, and transgenesis to create optimal tools for your research delivering a comprehensive service in genome modification.  To meet the high demand for this platform, Phenomics Australia offers genome editing services through five nodes across Australia, operating at MonashANUWEHI, SAHMRI and PeterMac.

Phenomics Australia Feedback Form

Phenomics Australia (formerly the Australian Phenomics Network, APN) offers consolidated infrastructure and expertise supporting genomic medicine and biomedical research from discovery through into early clinical development and evaluation.

Phenomics Australia is a founding capability enabled by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS). We would love to hear from you!

Please feel free to provide any ideas or general comments you might have so that we can further improve how Phenomics Australia can support you.

Phenomics Australia PHENOMENA News Contribution

Have you recently had a publication accepted? Do you want to tell us about a grant you have received? Or maybe you have just been recently in the news? You can complete this form to tell us about your latest research developments.

Information provided will be used to inform press releases, website stories, social media content and more. This form is being used to capture everything that is happening at Phenomics Australia, which can then be used as part of our outreach and communications.

Once you have completed the form, the Communications and Outreach Coordinator will then be in contact with you.


Make an Enquiry

_Get in touch to discuss how we can help with your research.