Gastro-intestinal cancer research

Genomic profiling of non-cancerous bowel tumours to improve prediction of progression to bowel cancer

Dr Peter Georgeson

Dr Peter Georgeson’s grant is generously funded by Cure Cancer

He is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Melbourne

Bowel cancer is a major health burden, but it is preventable if detected early. Screening the right people can reduce the burden of bowel cancer in the community.

With recent advances in genome sequencing technology, Dr Peter Georgeson believes this is the perfect area to apply his technical skills and maximise the effectiveness of his research.

Colorectal cancer prevention

Colorectal cancer poses a major health burden. Although it is the second deadliest cancer in Australia, it is preventable with appropriate screening.

Colorectal cancer can be prevented by removing pre-cancerous polyps (including adenomas) via colonoscopy. People who have had an adenoma (a non-cancerous, benign tumour) are at increased risk of developing subsequent adenomas and/or colorectal cancer, but this risk is not well understood, complicating screening guidelines. Current guidelines are based on average risk, with unclear recommendations based on the number of adenomas present. This results in many unnecessary colonoscopies, while high-risk individuals may miss out on necessary screening.

One in two Australians develop at least one colorectal adenoma by age 60, so understanding the contributing factors of colorectal cancer has substantial implications for a large proportion of the population. The risk of developing colorectal cancer has important clinical implications for the frequency of screening, which significantly impacts the individual and the burden on our health system.

Dr Peter Georgeson’s Research

The results of preliminary data gathered by Peter and his team demonstrates that genomic profiling of adenomas will reveal features associated with the development of colorectal cancer.

Using modern statistical techniques, Peter and his team will develop a personalised genomics-based risk predictor. Peter will oversee the sequencing of the adenomas and their genomic profiling via the Colorectal Oncogenomics Group’s existing bioinformatics pipeline at the University of Melbourne. The pipeline is well-established, having analysed over 1800 tumour samples and provided clinically actionable results.

"I will integrate genomic features into a machine learning predictor that incorporates existing score-based predictors to assess the clinical effectiveness of adenoma-based genomic profiling,’ says Peter. ‘This will enable the development of accurate personalised screening protocols that utilise all available relevant evidence. I am excited and passionate about the potential of this project to positively impact people’s lives."

The impact of funding for colorectal cancer research

Establishing a research program in the face of limited funding, in conjunction with intense competition from both peers and experienced researchers, is something many early-career researchers need to overcome.

"The current environment makes for a challenging start to an academic research career, particularly before you have an established track record,’ says Peter. ‘Early-career funding enables researchers to establish that track record, so I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to pursue this research program with the funding provided by Cure Cancer."

The Cure Cancer funding has provided Peter with the crucial opportunity to launch his research program. Successful completion of this research will result in the development of many related projects, including validation of these results and the development of clinical guidelines.

"This grant will enable me to be a world leader in this high impact and novel domain of bowel cancer research."

Together, we can cure cancer.

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