Professor Mark Baker - Funded 2018


Blood-Based Colorectal Cancer Screening Will Save Australian Lives

GOAL: To develop an early stage blood-based test for colorectal cancer, filling a huge gap in our fight against what is a potentially curable cancer if caught early and where Australia has the world’s highest incidence.

Australians have the highest rates of colorectal cancer (CRC) globally. Worldwide, over 3 million people live with CRC, 1.4 million are newly diagnosed and 694,000 patients die from CRC every year.

This project makes advances that will affect patient survival because Professor Mark Baker and his team have discovered blood proteins that differentiate healthy individuals from those with early stage CRC.

With this project they will optimise a simple, inexpensive test for population screening. The study will have a significant impact on patient survival which is ideal if tumours are:

(i) detected early whilst localised within the bowel wall;

(ii) confirmed by colonoscopy; and 

(iii) removed by a surgeon.

The superior population uptake of blood testing over faecal screening will make possible at least a doubling of lives saved.


Project Details

Early stage I/II CRC detection combined with surgical resection results in excellent long-term survival. However, because only 40% of people use the current faecal-based test provided by our National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, many patients are diagnosed far too late when survival rates are particularly poor.

This study builds on exciting new discoveries made at Macquarie using the very latest proteomics technologies. They have found that some blood proteins are differentially expressed in early stage CRC, allowing them to diagnose the disease when surgery can be curative.

By removing the most abundant proteins from patients’ blood samples using a technology MUH scientists invented, for the first time we see “far more deeply” revealing low abundance proteins that change in the early stages (stage I/II) of CRC.

Professor Baker and his team identified 37 plasma proteins all together that can collectively distinguish all stages of CRC from healthy control samples (importantly including early stage I and II).

In this project, they will develop this early stage CRC diagnostic using additional advanced mass spectrometry technologies that allows them to simultaneously measure those 36 novel candidate biomarkers in a single blood test. They will evaluate the test on a large population (n>500) and benchmark the test’s sensitivity and specificity against currently available faecal screening tests that have poor uptake. Finally, we will develop an optimised, validated blood-based multiplexed protein biomarker test for deployment in population screening for early stage CRC.

This project has the potential to save thousands of Australian lives once implemented through early detection. We look forward to hearing how Professor Baker and his team progress over the next 12 months.

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