A study aiming to find the genetic link between familial bowel cancers, led by Inaugural Chair of Adult Clinical Genetics at the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital Professor Ingrid Winship, is one of 13 research projects that will share in $3.8 million from Cancer Council Victoria.

Professor Winship’s project aims to use a mathematical algorithm to identify which bowel tumours have a familial link. The team will then study these tumours for a genetic profile, or ‘fingerprint’, which can identify the cause of the tumour – whether they be related to inherited, environmental, or bacterial causes.

The research funding is part of Cancer Council Victoria’s Grants-in-Aid program that funds high-quality research projects into the treatment, causes, detection and prevention of all cancers.

Professor Winship said the overarching aim of the project is to reduce the burden of bowel cancer disease, both in terms of life lost and quality of life lost.

“Bowel cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in Australia, yet it is one of the most preventable cancers. If we can identify who is at risk of developing bowel cancer and target them for screening, we can prevent many cancers and save lives, especially in young people. Doctors talk a lot these days about ‘targeted therapies’ to treat cancers; what we are trying to achieve here is targeted screening and precision prevention.”

Professor Winship said that up to 35% of bowel cancers are thought to be caused by genetic risk factors, yet currently only 5-10% of cases can be identified as such.

“There is currently a significant problem for patients and families, as well as clinicians, who are unable to receive an explanation for the cause of bowel cancer in their family. We hope to close the gap between explained and unexplained cases.”

More than $57 million in grants have been awarded by Cancer Council over the past decade. For more information on Cancer Council’s Grants-in-Aid program, please visit the Cancer Council website.

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