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Stopping Cancer Recurrence in its Tracks

Cancer researcher looking at contents of a test tube
Dr Sudha Rao at the University's epigenetics and transcription lab

University of Canberra research is working to prevent the recurrence of cancer - and it's on the cusp of a major breakthrough.

Research led by Dr Sudha Rao, Associate Professor in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Canberra, is on the brink of making a major breakthrough to stop the spread of recurring cancer

Dr Rao and her team are aiming to better understand how cells work at the genetic level and looking at preventing the spread of primary cancer cells. Their research has recently identified two target proteins that, if blocked, can neutralise the cells that spread primary cancer around the body.

"There is very little therapy to fight aggressive cancers such as breast cancer and the available treatments are harsh and in many cases, superficial and transient," Dr Rao explains. "And once they recur, there is no treatment whatsoever. We are determined to fix that."

Focusing on breast cancer, which remains the leading cause of cancer-related death in women, Dr Rao has built on previous work that identified a group of cells that are resilient to current cancer treatments and spread the cancer to other parts of the body.

"We aim to demonstrate that a therapy that combines standard care treatment with a treatment that inhibits cancer stem cells could prevent cancer recurrence," Dr Rao says.

By looking at how these cancer stem cells are wired up at the gene level and understanding what makes them different to normal breast cells, Dr Rao and her colleagues were able to identify small molecule inhibitors that drugs can specifically target.

"These treatments could also be used in tackling other aggressive cancers, such as prostate, ovarian and pancreatic cancer"

Dr Rao, who is part of the University's Centre for Research in Therapeutic Solutions (CResTS ) adds that "these treatments could also be used in tackling other aggressive cancers, such as prostate, ovarian and pancreatic cancer."

Dr Rao and her colleagues received a grant of $571,894 from the (NHMRC) for the project. They are working in close collaboration with Canberra Hospital and ANU on their research.

As Dr Rao points out, "We are at the verge of making a breakthrough discovery as well as developing new therapeutic strategies, so this funding will ensure that our work continues to go forward."