Gastro-intestinal cancer research

​​Forever Young: Reversing intestinal aging to prevent bowel cancer 

Dr Lochlan Fennell 

Dr Lochlan Fennell’s grant is generously funded by Cure Cancer.

He is a Laboratory Head at the School of Health at the University of the Sunshine Coast.

Although new therapies have improved patient outcomes, cancer still carries with it a significant morbidity and mortality burden. Driven by the famous quote from Dutch philosopher Desiderius Eramus; ‘prevention is better than the cure’, Dr Lochlan Fennell is dedicated to identifying the drivers of cancer, and targeting these processes before the cancer occurs.  

“Cancer care has three main pillars: Prevention, treatment, and survivorship,” says Lochlan. “We have made incredible ground in treating cancers in Australia. But by focusing on prevention, we can put an end to the tremendous stress, pain and suffering that is associated with a cancer diagnosis." 

Aging and bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in Australia and is a significant contributor to the overall disease burden within Australia. Most bowel cancers occur after age 40. The risk of developing bowel cancer at age 50 is ten times higher than at age 20. 

Recognising the link between aging and cancer has already resulted in the implementation of screening interventions that have dramatically decreased bowel cancer mortality. But despite widespread screening, preventing bowel cancer remains one of the key medical challenges of the 21st century. Novel approaches to overcoming the disease are urgently required.  

Dr Lochlan Fennell’s Research

Dr Lochlan Fennell’s current project focuses on cellular reprogramming technology to reverse cell aging, and examining whether this approach can prevent gene mutations that lead to cancer.  

Lochlan proposes that cellular reprogramming of epithelium (the thin tissue forming the outer layer of a body's surface) to a youthful state increases the competitive advantage of normal epithelial cells and prevents abnormal growth of tissues that could be cancerous.  

This research project has the potential to pave the way for personalised treatment and chemopreventative approaches tailored to the unique characteristics of aged patients.

The impact of funding for bowel cancer research

Lochlan sees the funding from Cure Cancer as immensely important, both for him personally and for his research program.  

“This funding will allow us to explore a novel concept that would not typically be considered by traditional funding bodies,’ says Lochlan. ‘It will allow us to generate important preliminary data on the role of age-reversal in cancer prevention.” 

Long term, Lochlan hopes that by leveraging this Cure Cancer grant, he and his team will be able to secure long term project funding. This will allow them to comprehensively tackle the role of aging in gastrointestinal cancer initiation, with the view to identifying the drivers of age-associated bowel cancer and progressing new and preventative strategies to tackle Australia’s third most common cancer. 

“Basic research is a challenging but rewarding process,’ he says. ‘Finding a research angle that you are passionate about helps you manage the swings and roundabouts that come with the job. Equally important is carving out time to focus on activities that aren’t related to research, allowing you to switch off and recharge.”

Together, we can cure cancer.

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