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  • Writer's pictureThe Local Times

A Hope To End Cancer

Associate Professor Michelle Wykes is seeking donations to help progress her exciting research discovery – the Masterswitch.


Bowel cancer is rarely discussed and quite often deadly. It affects men and women, young and old, with Australia having one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. According to Bowel Cancer Australia, one in fifteen Australians will develop the disease in their lifetime.


“This could be a real game changer in how we treat cancer patients in the future. I won’t give up.”

Whilst approximately 30% of people who develop the disease have hereditary contributions or family history, 70% do not, and the risk of developing bowel cancer rises sharply and progressively from age 50.


Associate Professor Michelle Wykes leads the Molecular Immunology Group at QIMR Berghofer, Herston. Having worked for over twenty years at the Institute, investigating how our immune systems respond to the challenge of disease, she is now seeking donations to help progress her exciting research discovery – the Masterswitch.


“We have developed antibodies that turn on a Masterswitch on dendritic cells to detect and discover cancers, which usually hide amongst the good cells,” said Associate Professor Wykes.

“The discovery came as I investigated how the immune system responded to malaria. I wanted to help half a million children who die every year from this dreadful illness. I never thought it would lead to new hope for breast and colorectal cancer treatment. Finding this potential Masterswitch which turns on the body’s dendritic cells, central to the body’s immune response, was incredibly exciting. We thought we could use this switch to turn on the body’s fighter T-cells to recognise and attack cancer cells.”


Associate Professor Wykes says that the pre-clinical laboratory results were simply breathtaking.


“We started with Micro Satellite Stable (MSS) bowel cancers, responsible for about 80 per cent of all bowel cancers. Those who have this type of cancer have very few good treatment options, and outcomes sadly reflect this. It’s the same for people diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer. The treatment options are just not good. To our amazement, results obtained in pre-clinical laboratory work showed an 80% success rate in clearing the cancers! And after ten months, it hadn’t grown back. The next step was to see whether results could be repeated in blood samples from metastatic colon cancer patients at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. They showed the same stunning results.”


“This could be a real game changer in how we treat cancer patients in the future. I won’t give up.”


For Research Officer Dr Rebecca Faleiro, it is personal, with her partner having a family history of breast cancer.


“If we don’t have enough funding, the project might stop,” explained Research Assistant Ji Liu. “We are so close. We need to keep going.”


Associate Professor Wykes and her team hope that one day soon, no one with bowel cancer will be told they are going to die.


“It’s a very tough conversation to have when you have to tell someone their cancer is not curable. Every day I see people who are desperately ill with the ‘untalked about’ bowel cancer. It’s quite often deadly, and we haven’t seen the huge improvements in survival that other cancers have seen. People come to me after their diagnosis, they are devastated, and they just can’t believe there isn’t a better treatment. It is quite simply heartbreaking,” said Association Professor Melissa Eastgate, Deputy Director of Medical Oncology, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.


For those interested in donating to this life-saving research, call 1800 993 000 or email supportus@qimrberghofer.edu.au. Donations go directly to QIMR Berghofer, with donations of two dollars or more tax deductable.


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