Emeritus Professor Nick Hoogenraad AO, Dr Amelia Johnston, Dr Hamsa Puthalakath, and Dr Megan Maher from the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science (LIMS), together with collaborators from the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI), the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and the Karolinska Institute, were awarded almost $2.5M funding for cancer cachexia research by the Victorian Cancer Agency.
Game changing research
Cancer cachexia is a muscle wasting disease that kills up to one third of people with late-stage cancers. It was always thought that the condition resulted from cancer spreading and consuming the body, with loss of appetite and nutritional complications causing muscles to waste away.
Johnston and Hoogenraad's research, published in Cell in 2015, showed otherwise, revealing that Fn14, a receptor on a cell's membrane which is often present on cancer cells, can cause cachexia. (Watch the video report here.)
Preparation for human trials
The international research team have developed antibodies targeting Fn14, which effectively block cachexia in preclinical models. The Victorian Cancer Agency funding will lay the foundation for clinical trials in humans.
"In the next stages of the project we will modify antibodies to make them suitable for administering to humans," said Professor Hoogenraad. "We will determine what happens inside the tumour cell that causes the catastrophic muscle wasting and other effects seen in cachexia, and define the molecular footprint of Fn14."
In collaboration with the ONCJRI and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, the team will also use non-invasive procedures, such as whole body PET scans, to explore the metabolic disturbances that occur in cancer patients with cachexia. Professor Hoogenraad anticipates that the group will be ready to carry out the first 'in human' trial, known as a 'Phase 1' or human toxicity trial, in 2018.