Funding boost for rectal cancer study

Mar 2 2017

Professor Stephen Ackland

HMRI Cancer Research Program co-leader Professor Stephen Ackland has received $450,000 from Cancer Council NSW for a rectal cancer study as one of 15 research projects awarded nearly $6 million.

His team from the University of Newcastle and Calvary Mater Newcastle will be leading a project grant coordinated by the Australasian Gastro-Intestinal Trials Group at the University of Sydney. They are testing whether statins, a drug for high cholesterol, can improve tumour shrinkage and reduce the side effects of rectal cancer treatment.

Rectal cancer is often treated by chemotherapy and radiation before surgery, but if the cancer responds poorly to treatment, many patients will relapse. Previous studies have suggested that people taking statin drugs have better treatment responses and fewer side effects during radiation. Statins are a class of drug used to treat high cholesterol.

“The addition of a cheap, well known drug for a short period during preoperative chemo and radiation might have substantial benefits. If shown in this context, similar scenarios in other cancers could then be tested,” Professor Ackland said.

“This is ‘drug re-purposing’ – exploring the value of old drugs in new situations.”

Along with Professor Michael Jameson (Waikato, NZ), Professor Ackland will test whether taking a statin for 3 months (during and after treatment) improves the response of a rectal tumour to radiation and chemotherapy. The trial will also determine whether adding statins to chemo-radiation can reduce the side effects of this treatment regimen.

There will be 222 patients from Australia and New Zealand enrolled in the trial.

“Professor Ackland and his team, as well as many of the research teams we have funded this year, are world leaders in their domain, and are positioned to rapidly translate their findings into practice. We look forward to seeing the results of this vital research,” Shayne Connell, Regional Manager Cancer Council Hunter Central Coast, said.