Treating cancer and inflammatory bowel disease

La Trobe researchers are investigating the molecular pathways associated with cancer and inflammatory bowel disease

La Trobe researchers, Associate Professor Erinna Lee and Associate Professor Doug Fairlie, are investigating the molecular pathways associated with cancer and inflammatory bowel disease to develop safer and more effective treatments.

Cancer and inflammatory bowel disease carry significant health, social, and economic consequences, emphasising the urgent need for new treatments to address their impact.

Associate Professor Lee and Fairlie’s research has shown that a common cause underlying cancer and inflammatory bowel disease involves problems associated with the molecular pathways that control whether a cell lives or dies.

“So far, we have identified the critical proteins that promote the unwanted survival of currently incurable cancers, such as mesothelioma and biliary tract cancer,” says Associate Professor Lee.

“We have also confirmed that these proteins can be targeted with drugs developed to specifically disarm them, and we are now working on how we can further improve these responses by making them more cancer-cell specific to minimise potential side effects.”

In their studies investigating the molecular pathways of inflammatory bowel disease, Associate Professor Lee and Fairlie have also identified the crucial role of a protein that is essential for maintaining gut health by supporting the survival of intestinal cells.

“When this protein is absent, a condition similar to inflammatory bowel disease can occur. This is a discovery that has important implications for how we might both predict and treat inflammatory bowel disease,” says Associate Professor Fairlie.

Associate Professor Lee and Associate Professor Fairlie now hope to translate their findings from the laboratory into clinical practice.

“Our ultimate goal is to develop safer and more effective treatment strategies and diagnostic and predictive tests for these debilitating and incurable diseases,” says Dr Fairlie.