Colon cancer biomarkers

Lead researcher

A/Professor Edouard Nice, Dr Peter Gibbs, Dr Lara Lipton


Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research

Years funded


Research into the early detection of bowel cancer in adults and older people. Bowel cancer is very common in Australia, occurring in around 5% of men and women. At present it is usually only diagnosed when people present with symptoms such as bleeding from the bowel.

Around 20% of people have their cancer diagnosed when it is advanced and not curable. These people usually die from their disease. Another 30% will have their disease relapse after initial treatment and will also die from disease. Bowel cancers start as bowel polyps. We know that if we can find polyps or early bowel cancers before symptoms occur we can decrease the incidence of bowel cancer and increase the cure rate.

If we can detect early relapse of bowel cancer we can also increase cure. At present we use a test done on faeces (the faecal occult blood test FOBT) to try to detect bowel cancer before it becomes symptomatic. This misses many cancers and polyps by being falsely negative and is sometimes falsely positive so that people need to have colonoscopy unnecessarily.

We use a blood marker CEA to test people who have had a bowel cancer at intervals, this rises if bowel cancer recurs. Unfortunately it misses about 30% of recurrences. We need better tests to find early bowel cancers and polyps and to detect bowel cancer recurrence. In this project we are using novel sensitive and specific validated biosensor-based assays to investigate the potential of a panel of biomarkers (sEGFR, cripto, A33 and telomerase), using blood or faeces, for the detection of primary bowel cancer or disease recurrence.

These markers have been chosen since we know they are implicated in colon cancer biology. We will test them against FOBT and CEA to see if they have less false negative and positive results, ie. they are better at detecting bowel cancer. These tests will be a cheap and effective way to screen people in the population and to monitor people for recurrence after bowel cancer.

Award / Duration

Research Grant: 2007-2009


$70,000 per annum