Creating a cancer-fighting diet: expression of therapeutic RNAs in plants.
Bowel cancer is the second highest cause of cancer-related death in Australia. A small proportion of bowel cancers result from genetic predisposition to the disease.
We have found that in gastrointestinal tumours, specific genes are turned on or off, leading to abnormal levels of activity controlled by these genes. By returning the activity of these genes to their normal levels, we can inhibit cancer cell growth.
We are exploring the use of plants to deliver factors that will normalise gene activity in the gut and thereby protect us against, or treat us for, bowel cancer.
What we aim to achieve
We would like to help reduce the risk of bowel cancer in those with a genetic predisposition to the disease, and to the community at large. To achieve this, we wish to create edible plants that can be consumed, either directly or as a nutrition supplement, and will help to protect against the formation of intestinal tumours. It is also possible that this approach may be useful in treating some intestinal tumours or secondary tumours in the liver. If successful, this may also lead the way to using similar approaches for the treatment of other forms of cancer or even some viral diseases.
Our next steps and milestones
We are still in the early stages of this research, having just developed the early generations of plants. Next, we must confirm whether digestion of the modified plant tissues will deliver therapeutic RNAs to the gut. We will then test to see if this will result in a reduced tumour burden.
What motivates me
I’m motivated by the challenge of discovering what drives cancer cells to become aggressive and how we can stop this from happening. There is the opportunity to help save lives, by enhancing cancer prevention or by contributing towards the development of new therapies. Few things can match the satisfaction of a successful day in the lab.
My message to supporters
The Blue Sky program, funded by Cancer Council SA donors, provides crucial seed funding for novel research that has significant risk of failure, but if successful may dramatically change our cancer prevention strategies, and bolster the therapeutic options available for patients.
To take great strides in the battle against cancer, we have to be brave enough to explore new ideas and approaches. This specific funding program allows researchers to stretch their imaginations and develop concepts that are "outside the box". It is from such endeavours that paradigm shifts arise. We are grateful to Cancer Council SA and its generous donors for supporting these challenging research projects.