Molecule heralds a microscopic bowel cancer breakthrough

By Rob Clancy, staff writer

The immune system wages a constant war against disease in all of us, and now researchers have identified a key immune molecule that could underpin a bowel cancer breakthrough.

Professor Bryan Williams has identified a key immune molecule that could underpin a bowel cancer breakthrough.
Professor Bryan Williams

Professor Bryan Williams is Emeritus Director and Distinguished Scientist at Hudson Institute of Medical Research.

His research with PhD student Saleh Almasabi and Research Fellow Afsar Ahmed was recently published in the journal Frontiers in Oncology, showing for the first time that a key molecule plays a significant role in promoting the growth of bowel cancer.

At a glance

  • A key molecule called ILK promotes bowel cancer by suppressing the immune system
  • Inhibiting the function of ILK in bowel cancer reduced its growth
  • Hudson Institute researchers tackle bowel cancer from all angles in their search for ways to prevent bowel cancer and new treatments.

This molecule, known as integrin linked kinase (ILK), is involved in regulating cell activity and is present at high levels in bowel cancer, acting to suppress the immune system.

Inhibiting bowel cancer growth

“The microenvironment surrounding a tumor is a hotbed of immune cell-cancer cell interactions that either inhibit tumor growth or promote its progression,” Prof Williams said. “We seek to understand what controls this balance and how it may be altered to favour tumor regression and cure.”

“Our research shows that ILK moves the needle between immunity and cancer in favour of the tumor.”

The research identified that inhibiting the function of ILK in bowel cancer cell lines reduced their growth and also blocked the expression of an important immune suppressor molecule PD-L1.

Bowel cancer-fighting drug breakthrough

These findings could lead to the development of new cancer-fighting drugs based on the actions of ILK.

“This supports developing anti-ILK drugs that will not only directly target cancer cells but promote immunotherapy against tumors,” Prof Williams said.

“It provides a new paradigm for developing a clinical strategy for hard to treat solid tumors that exhibit high levels of ILK.

“These tumors are often insensitive to immunotherapy and targeting ILK could overcome this,” he said.

Contact us

Hudson Institute communications
t: + 61 3 8572 2761

About Hudson Institute

Hudson Institute’ s research programs deliver in five areas of medical need – inflammation, cancer, reproductive health, newborn health, and hormones and health. More

Hudson News

Get the inside view on discoveries and patient stories

“Thank you Hudson Institute researchers. Your work brings such hope to all women with ovarian cancer knowing that potentially women in the future won't have to go through what we have!”

Alana Chantry