The presenting community-funded grants is always momentous occasion, and this year’s Innovation Grant is no exception. This grant could not have come about without the generosity of the entire GI Cancer Institute community, especially the supporters and fundraisers who make these grants possible. At the end of 2021, we were fortunate enough to award two Innovation Grants, meaning that we are continuing to fund new research ideas, that can lead to improved outcomes for GI cancer patients.
Professor Eva Segelov
The first Innovation Grant went to Professor Eva Segelov for her project investigating if circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) can be used as a marker to indicate a patient’s prognosis or predict the risk of disease recurrence post-resective (tumour removal) surgery. This trial, or better known as ActDNA, is a translational sub-study of the ASCOLT trial. The ASCOLT study is an international trial that is studying whether aspirin can be used as a treatment for people with colorectal cancer. The team then leveraged off the fact that they had these blood samples from their patients, which they can now use for the ActDNA trial.
“I’m very proud to be the recipient of the Innovation Grant on behalf of the team,” Professor Segelov said.
“This new research is something that we didn’t initially anticipate, but what it will be looking at is whether there are signs little bits of DNA in the blood sample that can predict whether or not the cancer will come back. The whole area of ctDNA is something that has been a great interest for many years, but we never had the tools to be able to do it until now.”
Patients will now benefit from greater relieve and reassurance in their treatment’s success. Recurrence occurs in 20-50% of patients with localised colorectal cancer following initial treatment. If recurrence can be detected quickly and early on, there is a better chance that any further interventions could be curative. Plus, if particular markers in a patient’s blood indicates that they are at high risk for recurrence, they can be monitored more closely by physicians during the follow-up period.
Understanding how important community support and donations are to the continuity of research, Professor Segelov had this to say: “Every research dollar is highly valued, and we work very hard to get the most out of the funds that are raised. It goes directly to the research, and we couldn’t do the this without the money raised or the patients who are involved in these trials.”
Dr Shehara Mendis
Our second Innovation Grant recipient is Dr Shehara Mendis, who is an early-career medical oncologist and Clinical Research Fellow. Dr Mendis was both humbled and excited to receive the second Innovation Grant for her trial, BIOMARKER-RS.
“I’ve got big shoes to fill because there have been some excellent studies launched through the Innovation Grant. I’m enormously humbled to have people invest in the idea that’s been presented, and I’m very grateful to my mentors and collaborators (in particular Professor Peter Gibbs and Dr Michael Christie) who have given me the opportunity to develop this concept and guided me along the way,” Dr Mendis said.
This project focuses on the use of a simple pathology test for two biomarkers: amphiregulin (AREG) and epiregulin (EREG), that might predict who will benefit most from a targeted cancer therapy called Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor inhibitors (EGFRi), which is commonly used in advanced colorectal cancer.
Previously the location of the tumour (left side vs right side of the colon) was used to determine who receives EGFRi. For patients with right-sided tumours, EGFRi are not recommended as initial treatment, and uncertainty remains as to whether these patients benefit from EGFRi at all. Dr Mendis’ trial will use the EGFR ligand assessment of AREG and EREG on tumour tissue to determine who should receive EGFRi for right sided colon cancer, and whether it will provide any benefits.
“Rather than using the side of the colon in which their cancer originated, we will measure biomarkers in the tumour we think will indicate which patient will respond. We will essentially be finding the patients who are most likely to benefit from EGFRi, and sparing patients who won’t benefit from unnecessary toxicity and ineffective therapy,” said Dr Mendis.
Just like Professor Segelov, Dr Mendis is extremely grateful to the community-supporters who contributed to the grant either through donations or the Gutsy Challenge. She believes important research, is not possible without generous philanthropic support.
“Developing research ideas and seeing them come to fruition takes a lot of hard work, so it’s important we have the skills, wisdom, experience and time, but also the funding to develop these ideas and see them through. Again, just a big thank you to all the donors because that is such an important part of the process.”
Congratulations once again to Professor Segelov and Dr Mendis. We look forward to presenting the progress of these two innovative trials in the near future.