In an Australian first, researchers at the South Australian Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) are adopting new ways to personalise attacks on bowel cancers that are failing to respond to early treatments.
In a multi-site study, samples were taken from 19 metastatic bowel cancer patients so tumour cells could be grown at the South Australian Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) lab for direct testing.
“All cancers are a bit different, even though we group them together under broad headings like bowel cancer,” co-leader of the project, Dr Susan Woods, said.
“Sadly, most of the patients included in our study will exhaust the treatment options available to them. By growing samples for each patient’s tumour, we can specifically test which drugs work best for their tumour.”
Researchers added their findings to a genomic sequencing process to build a highly detailed profile of each cancer, Dr Woods, who leads the Gut Cancer Group at SAHMRI and the University of Adelaide, said.
“We selected drugs which hadn’t necessarily been used on bowel cancer before but had already been approved for human use for other conditions,” Dr Woods said.
“That means that if any are found to be successful, we can use them to treat that patient almost straight away.”
Two of the 19 patients were put on new treatment programs, one initially responding positively. Others in the trial are likely to eventually use treatments suggested.
“I think it’s showing we can do it in clinical practice, that’s the main aim, to take something that’s a new lab advance and use that to give some new options to patients,” she said.
Work on the project started three years ago when one of the cancer group’s members, a young man with late stage bowel cancer with a young family, died.
“He was the most amazing person, he had a big impact on us,” Dr Woods said.
“That started us off in thinking, OK, if we are going to run a project like this we need to aim it at the person who needs it the most.”
Dr Woods said another patient was currently trialling the new program because she wanted to ensure greater treatment options were in place.
“We have a patient, who is currently not part of this paper, she is much earlier in her disease but she can see her disease will progress at some point and she wants to try something new now, knowing she has standard options later,” she said.
The work has “only scratched the surface of what might be possible”, Dr Woods said, and the group wanted to begin a Phase Two clinical trial using this innovative precision medicine approach.
“It’s likely these techniques could prove to be relevant for other solid cancers too,” she said.
The project also involved the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Cancer Voice SA, and the US-based SEngine Precision Medicine and Columbia University Medical Centre.
Findings are being published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.